Better late than never

Claire Trevett reports at NZ Herald:

Labour’s deputy leader said Parliament should consider changing the process of dealing with electoral law breaches to speed it up – including giving the powers to fine or penalise for some breaches.

Mr Robertson said the Electoral Commission was the expert body on electoral law, yet it had to send any breaches to to decide whether to act on them.

I’ve been advocating this for years, including in submission to select committees. Sadly, Labour never voted in favour of changing the law.

While their sudden enthusiasm to do so, seems rather opportunistic, it is the right thing to do.

“The bigger issue is the number of complaints they’ve sent to the Police that nothing has happened with. So maybe there is another way. For instance, could you set a threshold under which the Electoral Commission was able to impose some sort of penalty rather than have to have Police prosecute it.”

Time and time again the Police have shown, with all due respect, a total disinterest in enforcing electoral law (the most notorious case being the non charging of Labour over their $400,000 deliberate over-spend in 2005). They would obviously rather be catching muggers  etc.

Even worse, the Police seem to have a deliberate policy to not decide on any complaints until after the election. They see this as not interfering with the election, but it is in fact a worse form of interference. It means parties and candidates and others can breach electoral laws, and not have to worry about the stigma of being charged prior to the election. This encourages rule breaking.

I will once again be submitting to change the law to the 2011 election review later this year. I look forward to Labour voting for removing the Police from any role in electoral law enforcement, and other parties doing the same.

What should happen is that the Electoral Commission itself can levy small fines for relatively minor issues such as late returns and the like, or missing promoter statements on ads that still have a clear author. For more major issues they should be able to lay charges directly with the courts.

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