Electoral Review - making our votes count

By Julie Haggie
CEO, Transparency International New Zealand

In 2023 we go to the polls again, no referenda this time, but plenty of opportunity for voters to scrutinise party policies and think about who to give their two votes to. We have had two votes for 29 years, and it is certainly an improvement on no votes for half the population up until 1893.

Previous Minister of Justice, Kris Faafoi promised an electoral review last year which is underway. The first round of consultations with the Independent Electoral Review panel have taken place and we can expect an interim report in May 2023 with draft recommendations for further consultation. The final recommendations of the panel are due with the Government in November 2023.

TINZ met with the Electoral Review panel in late October and we have also provided a written submission, which is available to view at this link.

Our baseline position draws on the core reasons for demanding electoral integrity:

Public trust in politicians can be expected to wax and wane, but persistent trust in the electoral process is a necessary contributor to engagement of citizens in democracy. The votes of individuals need to count – they should not be undermined by bias generated by private funding or other forms of power.
People will vote when they believe their vote will have impact, when they feel connected to the issues and representatives, and when they have relevant and simple access to voting. New Zealand democracy is enhanced by specific Māori representation and by diversity in representation.
A stable democracy has better potential to protect and enable citizen political and civil rights and the rule of law. Foreign and global influences and disinformation can undermine local democracy. Civics education assists people to make informed choices at the ballot box.

These are the rationale for political and electoral integrity being important pillars of our national integrity system.

The current Electoral Review doesn’t cover matters like codes of conduct, lobbying and access to information from parliamentary entities, but otherwise it has a broad scope, including the voting age, overseas voting, parliamentary term length, political party funding, party vote and electorate seat thresh-holds and election advertising

We have recommended a publicly searchable register containing party registration information, political party funding, loan and in-kind donation information with auditing information to provide more up to date public reporting.

As for political party funding, we think that reporting should be more frequent and thresholds for non-anonymous donations lowered. 

Companies and organisations that contract to or supply government agencies should not be permitted to make donations to political parties or candidates. There is a risk that donations from such companies and organisations are perceived as being made in exchange for maintenance of supply or other contracts.

TINZ has also consistently argued for greater transparency of the use of funding allocated to parties by Parliamentary Services, which at the moment is entirely opaque. We also support a broader recommendation for more even application of broadcasting funding. 

We have consistently recommended that the Electoral Commission be given greater investigatory, enforcement and sanctions powers.

Actions along these lines are necessary to maintain our strong democracy.

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