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Chief Electoral Officer
Since starting at the Electoral Commission at the beginning of this year, I have seen first-hand the attention to detail that ensures our electoral system is robust and secure. Voters can be confident when they head to the polls later this year that their vote will count.
International events have raised public interest in the integrity of voting systems worldwide. It would be unfair if this caused doubt in the minds of New Zealand voters, as ours is a trustworthy, transparent and rigorous system.
It starts with the integrity of the Parliamentary electoral roll. About 90% of the estimated eligible population is already registered to vote. The accuracy of the roll is maintained through monitoring that identifies irregular enrolments.
When it comes to the vote, there is no evidence of significant voter fraud in New Zealand. We have only one roll and the same person cannot be registered twice.
Cases of people voting more than once, either under their own name or by impersonating another voter, are rare. These are picked up by the Electoral Commission during the official count when electoral rolls from voting places around the country are checked against the master roll. After the 2014 election, 126 cases of people voting more than once were identified and referred to the Police. 126 out of 2,446,279 votes cast is a very small number.
Procedures are in place to ensure secure handling of voting papers and ballot boxes during voting and counting. Electoral officials are responsible for the transportation and safe keeping of voting papers and boxes. Each voting paper is numbered and can be traced if necessary. Votes are counted twice, first in the preliminary count on election night, and then again in a meticulous count that takes two weeks and is overseen by electoral officials and Justices of the Peace.
Many steps are taken throughout this process to maintain the secrecy of the ballot, so no one will know how another person has voted. There is no information on the ballot paper that can readily identify who the voter is. The ballot paper goes into a box that is sealed until the count starts and, as described above, the counts are conducted in a secure place, overseen by officials.
In New Zealand we have checks and balances to promote transparency in elections. One of the most obvious is that the vote is overseen by our peers, by people like ourselves.
We will have about 15,000 election day staff running our voting places. They are people from the local community who want to be involved in the election process. They receive training and are guided by experienced leaders.
Scrutineers appointed by candidates and parties also have an important role to play observing the conduct of the election and providing assurance that electoral procedures and rules have been followed by officials and voters.
There are checks and balances too for the politicians. Clear campaign rules are set out in law for political parties, candidates and third parties around election advertising, spending limits, and declarations of donations and expenses. These declarations provide the public with information about their election activities.
Importantly, we have struck a balance between providing a secure system and, at the same time, maintaining ease of enrolling and voting. Voting has to be easy if we want to encourage participation, and in New Zealand, people do have a good understanding of how to enroll, and how and when to vote. In a survey after the 2014 election, 92% of voters said they were satisfied or very satisfied with their voting experience.
In 2017, boundaries will be pushed, claims will be made, new forms of advertising will test the rules. But there are laws and processes in place that can give us all confidence in the integrity of the system itself as we move towards the 2017 General Election.