NZ First leader Winston Peters today launched a broadside against the decision to allow people to enrol to vote on election day.
These votes are counted as special votes, which take ten times longer to count than other votes. As part of the rule change, the Electoral Commission now takes a week longer to publish final election results, including the special vote count.
Asked why NZ First had waited so long to begin coalition talks, which could have begun the day after polling day, Peters argued the real cause of the delay was the decision to allow people to enrol on election day.
“Here we are with a three week delay because people decided to have people enrol on election day,” Peters said.
“They had 35 months to enrol, but no we had people going to the election day … that’s not democracy,” he said.
Peters then goaded media to investigate who was responsible for the decision to allow same-day enrolments.
“We had a three weeks’ delay as a consequence of that and I wish the media would focus on who caused that delay,” Peters said.
The problem for Peters is that he is in large part responsible for the delay. He was a member of the Cabinet which decided on the change, a member of the Government that introduced the legislation making the change, and the leader of the NZ First Party which voted for it at all three stages of the legislative process throughout 2019 and 2020.
Former NZ First MP Darroch Ball. Photo / Mark Mitchell
It is unlikely that Peters was unaware that switching to same-day enrolment would mean longer to count votes. The bill that made the change allowed a longer time for the election process to play out, giving the Electoral Commission longer to count votes.
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The introduction of the bill makes this clear: “To allow the Electoral Commission to process election-day enrolments, clause 11 would extend the latest date for the return of the writ from 50 to 60 days after writ day”.
Standing beside Peters’ today was his effective chief of staff Darroch Ball, a former NZ First MP, who also supported the legislation when he was in Parliament.
Speaking at the bill’s first reading in 2019, Ball spoke about the fact that allowing same-day enrolments would cause delays to counting votes, but he took the opposite view to what Peters is now arguing.
Attacking a speech made by National’s Chris Bishop, who attacked the fact the change would cause delays in counting votes, Ball said the change was worthwhile because it would increase voter turnout. Ball said that National did not want to increase voter turnout because they feared those new voters would vote for the then-Government.
“National don’t want more people to have access to vote, because that will mean that they’ll have favour in the election. If people are empowered in this country... they’re going to vote for the sitting Government,” Ball said.
In a later speech, Ball attacked National’s opposition to the bill, saying a longer count was a price worth paying for allowing more people to vote.
“[T]hey’re [National] going to stop someone’s right to get in there and vote because of a 10-day delay - because of a 10-day delay,” he said, attacking National.
National and Act both opposed them at the time. Both parties have vented frustration about the time taken to count votes, but neither have said they would move to actually reverse the change. With NZ First now saying they have changed their position on the change, there is a potential majority for returning to the old system.
Act leader David Seymour said the question would be worth the Justice Committee looking at as part of the review the committee does of every election.
The final enrolment rate was 94.7 per cent, up slightly on 94.1 per cent in 2020, and 92.4 per cent in 2017, the last election before the change.
Turnout of people who were enrolled to vote was 78.2 per cent, lower than 2020 when the rate was 82.2 per cent, and 2017 when the rate was 79.8 per cent.
Thomas Coughlan is Deputy Political Editor and covers politics from Parliament. He has worked for the Herald since 2021 and has worked in the press gallery since 2018.
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