Submission to the 2013 local authority elections inquiry


 About the Submitter

  1. This submission is made by David Farrar in a personal capacity. I would like to appear before the Committee to speak to my submission.

Management of Elections

  1. I submitted to the 2010 inquiry that the Government should be asked to look into the pros and cons of making the Electoral Commission responsible for local authority elections.
  2. My views have firmed up since then, and I now strongly believe that it is highly desirable that the Electoral Commission be placed in charge of local authority elections, acting as a legal and organization backstop to local returning officers.
  3. It is inevitable that there would be considerable cost savings from having one entity run the 90+ local elections, than having it done by 67 territorial authorities. The extra cost to the Electoral Commission could be funded by a levy on local bodies proportional to their population. This would save ratepayers money overall.
  4. The more important reason to place the Electoral Commission in charge is integrity and consistency of electoral law. 67 different returning officers may make many different rulings on how they interpret the Act. They have no ability to deal with complaints on law breaches short of referring them to the Police who have shown little interest in such things. Having the Electoral Commission in charge would mean consistency rules and decisions, and specialized legal resource that can be used to decide which alleged breaches should go to the Police.
  5. The other important issue is that local returning officers are generally staff members of their local Councils. They spend 33 out of 36 months having to work with Councillors in a “subservient” relationship and then three months as the arbiter of the election. That place them in an invidious position where they can damage their long-term working relationship by unfavourable interpretation to Councillors who are candidates.
  6. This problem is not just theoretical. I have spoken to a number of Mayors who have told me their returning officers have been bullied by Councillors who are candidates, and the results are confusing and inconsistent rulings which aim to appease a Councillor who can make their job difficult outside election time.
  7. I discussed the issue of having the Electoral Commission responsible for local authority elections with a conference of re-elected Mayors at a LGNZ conference. While there was no formal vote, there seemed to be very strong support from most Mayors there for having the Electoral Commission in charge of local authority elections. I think such a move would gain support from most local authorities, and even many local returning officers.
  8. With possible use of e-voting in the future, it makes even more sense to consider a central authority for local elections.
  9. A further advantage to having a central authority is that election results could be displayed on one central website, rather than the 67 different sites currently out there.
  10. A final point in favour of having the Electoral Commission in charge is it would make it easier for those on the unpublished roll to vote in local elections. I found out from one Mayor that if someone is on the unpublished rolls, then they do not get posted voting papers as the Electoral Commission isn’t authorized to share unpublished roll details with local authorities. That means those on the unpublished roll (such as domestic abuse victims, police officers) have to ring up, get authenticated and have a special set of ballot papers sent to them. Of course very few go to such lengths. If the Electoral Commission had overall authority they could post out ballot papers directly to those on the unpublished roll.

More informed voting

  1. I propose that ballot papers be required to be in random order so that no candidate gets an advantage based on their surname. There is considerable research showing ballot order affects votes, and we saw some candidates changing surnames in order to try and game the system.
  2. I also believe people would make better decisions (and have higher turnout) if there were fewer candidates to choose from or rank. A law change directing the Local Government Commission to implement single member wards (as Parliament has), unless there are strong reasons not to, would be beneficial.


  1. I’m pleased to see progress has been made on this issue since I submitted on it in 2011, and that the Government plans to trial this no later than 2016.
  2. An option to vote electronically is just that – an option. It is not proposed that it replaces postal voting –just to complement it. It will not be a silver bullet for low voting turnout, but it should make some impact as it makes it easier for those who want to vote, to do so.

Thank you for considering this submission. I would like to make an oral submission in support, and look forward to appearing.


David Farrar