New Zealand Law Society - Rushed changes to electoral legislation fall short

Rushed changes to electoral legislation fall short

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The New Zealand Law Society is concerned that changes to electoral legislation in preparation for the 2017 general election are being rushed through without reasonable opportunity for public input.

The Law Society has presented its submission on the Electoral Amendment Bill to the Justice and Electoral select committee.

Law Society  spokesperson, David Cochrane has told the select committee a very short public consultation period of nine working days meant it was not possible to properly analyse the bill and identify potential defects in it.

“This is particularly unsatisfactory given the constitutional nature of the bill,” he says.

The bill addresses recommendations from the Electoral Commission’s report on the 2014 general election, but the Law Society says there are some significant omissions.

“The Electoral Commission raised concerns in 2012 and again in 2015 about the adequacy of the legislative provisions for dealing with emergencies, and the Ministry of Justice undertook some preliminary work in 2015, but this significant issue is not addressed in the bill.

“Another significant concern identified by the Electoral Commission is the increasing vulnerability of the technology underpinning New Zealand’s electoral system to security risks. The Law Society notes that New Zealand is increasingly subject to cyber-attack and there is no reason to assume the electoral system would be immune,” Mr Cochrane says.

The Commission’s 2015 report says that development of a replacement for the current “legacy system” is underway. The Law Society has urged the select committee to seek confirmation that the replacement system will be in place for the 2017 general election.

Mr Cochrane says the Law Society has also identified three key concerns about changes introduced in the bill, including what appears to be a significant advantage given to MPs over other candidates in respect of signage on MPs’ office and vehicle signage.

“It’s not clear why a non-MP candidate who wants to provide contact information to intending voters should be discriminated against, which is the effect of the proposed change in the bill,” he says.

The Law Society is also questioning whether that change should apply to all candidates rather than only to MPs, and is recommending additional changes to address other problematic provisions in the bill.