Barry Soper: Election date change was better than uglier alternative

Author
Barry Soper,
Publish Date
Mon, 17 Aug 2020, 5:08PM
Winston Peters could have decided to name no confidence in Jacinda Ardern. (Photo / NZ Herald)
Winston Peters could have decided to name no confidence in Jacinda Ardern. (Photo / NZ Herald)

Barry Soper: Election date change was better than uglier alternative

Author
Barry Soper,
Publish Date
Mon, 17 Aug 2020, 5:08PM

There was no appetite on the ninth floor of the Beehive to delay this year's election by a month but the alternative was too ugly for Jacinda Ardern to contemplate and even worse for the Governor-General Patsy Reedy to have to cope with.

The latter could have been forced to answer a knock at the door up at Government House, opening it to Judith Collins and Winston Peters telling her Ardern didn't have the confidence of the House to dissolve Parliament and they were forming a Government.

No, Ardern had no choice but to delay the election and not just for constitutional reasons

The winner was democracy, the right of parties to get out and campaign.

Under planned September 19 schedule, early voting would have begun around a week after a third of the population were finally released from lockdown in the Auckland area. And even that's not certain.

Labour had already launched its campaign with great fanfare but National was denied doing the same yesterday because of the restrictions on gatherings.

Labour and The Greens were happy enough for the election to go ahead as scheduled. Politics is no different to anything else, strike while the iron's hot and for Labour, going by the opinion polls, it's piping hot and any delay could see the temperature cooling, particularly as Covid cases spring up all over the place.

Ardern was being either optimistic or naive when she adamantly declared she wouldn't be changing the election date again, insisting holding the poll on October 17 gives the Electoral Commission enough time to plan for it to go ahead.

In the end, though, it might not be up to her to determine when and how it's held in these unpredictable and dramatically changing times.

What if this current Covid outbreak isn't successfully brought under control and Auckland remains in lockdown?

Well under Alert Levels 3 and 4, clusters of up to 500 voters in the affected areas, up to a maximum of 5000 nationwide, can exercise their democratic right by using what they call takeaway voting.  That of course would be implausible considering the number of voters who would miss out would, in those circumstances, be the vast majority.

More likely in these circumstances, the Chief Electoral Officer would use emergency powers that are available to her. She could delay election day voting by up to seven day blocks at a time.

One can only hope the current Covid outbreak's well under control, at least by October the 3rd when advance voting can begin.  That was expected to account for up to 60 percent of the vote this time around but then all expectations given the current climate are just that.