Wellington mayoral candidate Paul Eagle says he won’t be removing his election signage from digital billboards around the city, despite being asked to by the council.
Eagle says he will be leaving the signs up until this weekend, as he had planned.
The signs caused confusion online on Monday, the day Eagle announced he was running for the mayoralty. Twitter users questioned their legality as they were on display outside of the permitted election advertising period.
Wellington City Council electoral officer Warwick Lampp said he had asked Eagle to remove the ads until the formal election hoarding period began on August 27, but Eagle maintained he was within his rights.
He was clearly within his rights and it appalling that a returning officer would try to pressure a candidate to remove a legal sign. I have long advocated that rather than have each Council appoint a Returning Officer, the Electoral Commission should be in charge of all local elections. They have legal expertise and resources so they don’t just make things up.
Lampp said the policy is designed to create a level playing field for candidates and has been generally respected for many years. The council website says signage on private land must be displayed only between August 27 and October 8.
But lawyer Graeme Edgeler says this applies to only temporary corflute signage.
“I am entirely confident that these are lawful,” Edgeler said. “As long as this is a commercial billboard space – and Paul has said it is, and it clearly looks to be one in the picture.”
Edgeler is an electoral law expert. The Returning Officer should apologise for his actions.
UPDATE: It is even worse. A later story points out:
Two previous mayoral candidates also have confirmed they were never told to take down their advertising at a similar stage of their campaigns.
An invoice viewed by the Herald shows 2016 Labour mayoral candidate Justin Lester paid for campaign advertising over the course of July that year.
Lester’s opponent Nick Leggett also has pictures on his Facebook page of advertising on buses and billboards as early as May.
The Returning Officer should potentially be sacked for this. He has effectively smeared a candidate by inventing a new rule and claiming the candidate broke it. Further evidence shows previous mayoral candidates were advertising in July and never asked not to. This smacks of partisanship.