Politicians differ sharply on changes to Electoral Law

Response to government’s proposal on voting age, donations and more

Justice Minister Kris Faafoi (RNZ Photo by Samuel Rillstone)

Venkat Raman
Auckland, October 5, 2021

Lawmakers across the political spectrum have reacted to the government’s proposal to make changes to the Electoral Law and while there are varied opinions, one issue is likely to get the consensus- extension of the Parliamentary terms from three to four years.

It would however be a long and arduous journey and Justice Minister Kris Faafoi himself believes that amendments are likely to be effected only by 2019, another year of election.

Need for Review

He told the media this morning that while the Electoral Law has been tweaked over the past 70 years, there is a need to have a comprehensive review and promised an All-Party and Non-Partisan participation of the changes that must be made.

“While we have a world-class electoral system, times are changing and the Electoral Act needs to continue to move with them.  Much has changed since the 1950s but most of our electoral rules haven’t. We want to make election rules clearer and fairer to build more trust in the system and better support people to exercise their right to vote,” he said.

The government is taking two approaches, namely an Independent Review of the Electoral Law and targeted changes to support the delivery of and participation in the General Election due to be held in 2023.

Scope of Review

The Independent Review will consider (a) Voting age and overseas voting (b) Funding of political parties (c) The length of the Parliamentary term (d) Recommendations of the MMP systems by the Electoral Commission (e) Changes to Party-vote threshold (f) One seat electorate rule (g) Ratio of electorate seats to list seats and (h) The overhang rule

However, online voting, a return to First Past the Post or alternatives to New Zealand’s MMP system, the future of Maori electorate seats, local Electoral Law, fundamental constitutional change) such as becoming a Republic or having an Upper House) will not be considered.

Mr Faafoi said that the government will set up an Independent Review Panel to consider changes to the Electoral Law and report back by late 2023 with recommendations.

He said that he would consult with Leaders of political parties, the Justice Committee of Parliament, Maori organisations, youth organisations, Universities and the New Zealand Law Societies to seek nominations to the Panel.

“This work is a commitment signalled in Labour’s 2020 Manifesto to protect the integrity of New Zealand elections, and it is also part of the Cooperation Agreement between the New Zealand Labour Party and the Green Party of Aotearoa. We are looking to make progress on the work before the end of the year,” he said.

The following is a Radio New Zealand Report:

Additional changes and Referendum

Some political parties are pushing for some additional electoral law changes to be made, without waiting for an independent review, while others say it must go to a referendum.

National Party Leader Judith Collins (RNZ Photo by Samuel Rillstone)

National Party Leader Judith Collins, who was Justice Minister when her Party was in government had rejected the recommendations of the Electoral Commission in 2012.

She has said now that the Party was unable to reach consensus on the proposals, and that 75% majority or a referendum was required for large-scale electoral law change.

“We could not get consensus in Parliament. I wrote to every Party Leader and we got a varying degree of responses, none of them agreeing with each other. We thought that it was the right thing to do and that had always been what had happened prior to our time in government so we followed it through,” she said.

Ms Collins said that National will not support lowering the voting age, and while she was personally in favour of a four-year term, it should go to a Referendum.

National’s Electoral Law spokesperson Chris Penk questioned the value of the Review, saying that it was strange considering that the Justice Select Committee Review of the 2020 election was already taking place.

“Our view is that all Kiwis should be provided an equal opportunity to contribute to the review of the electoral system, as it belongs to them all,” he said.

No Coat-tailing please

Green Party Electoral Reform Spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman welcomed the Review but singled out the 2012 Electoral Commission review changes that Collins had rejected and said that they should be made without delay.

Green Party MP Gloriz Gharaman (VNP Photo by Daniela Maoate-Cox)

“There has already been a very thorough review of our MMP system by the Electoral Commission after two rounds of public consultations with thousands of people. Those recommendations were buried by Judith Collins in the then-National Party government. Our democracy is too precious to leave to the vested interest of politicians,” she said.

ACT leader David Seymour said the Party did not support lowering the voting age or removing the coat-tailing rule.

“We have already got far too many voters in New Zealanders who do not pay any tax without adding 16 and 17-year-olds to the mix. We believe that Parliament should be a diverse place, and that is why we would not support removing the Coat-Tailing Rule.”

The Coat-Tailing Rule allows Parties with an electorate seat to bring in more MPs based on their Party vote, regardless of whether they surpass the 5% Party vote threshold.

ACT Leader David Seymour (Pool Photo by Robert Kitchin from Stuff)

ACT did not believe changes were needed on Party donations, Mr Seymour said.

“If taxpayers fund the political parties, you really have an insiders closed shop. People should have to go out to the community and seek funding to contest political power. If they are funded by the very institution that they are supposed to be held accountable, that is no longer a true democracy. The donation laws are working effectively. That is why nearly every other party except ACT is before the courts because the law works,” he said.

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