New Zealand Law Society - Electoral Amendment Bill introduced to Parliament

Electoral Amendment Bill introduced to Parliament

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Justice Minister Andrew Little has introduced the Electoral Amendment Bill to Parliament.

The bill - which would come into force on the day after it receives the Royal assent - makes several changes to the Electoral Act 1993 and Electoral Regulations 1996.

Election day enrolment

Amendments would allow New Zealand-based electors to apply to enrol, or to update their enrolment details, on election day. Such applications would be processed for the purpose of qualifying the elector's vote in that election.

The stated purpose of the amendment is to enfranchise more eligible voters.

Another change would extend the latest date for the return of the writ to 60 days after its issue. This is needed to support the Electoral Commission to manage the introduction of election day enrolment and to provide more time to process the increased numbers of enrolment and update forms before the official count begins.

Expansion of voting places

The prohibition on designating any licensed premises under the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012 as a voting place is removed.

This would enable the Electoral Commission to designate any premises, or part of any premises, such as supermarkets (off-licences) and conference centres, community clubs, and sports facilities (on-licences), as voting places.

Another amendment would allow the Electoral Commission to conduct the preliminary count of ballot papers in a designated place away from the voting place where that is necessary. At present any election day voting place needs to be made secure and private so the preliminary count can be conducted there. The bill would allow a nearby secure voting place to be appointed for the counting of votes.

Changes to vote issuing and return processes

An amendment would allow an ordinary vote to be issued to any voter who can be found on an electoral roll at the time at which they go into a voting place. The objective of this is to enable best use of electronic technology in future elections.

Another amendment also says a special vote declaration can be treated as an application to enrol or update an elector's enrolment details.

The explanatory information says the Electoral Commission is working towards beginning to implement the proposed changes for the 2023 general election.

Management of polling day disruptions

The bill updates provisions which provide for managing polling disruptions by replacing the existing section 195. These include empowering the Chief Electoral Officer to respond broadly to a wide range of disruptions and broadening the definition of the type of applicable events.

The actions may be taken if there is "an unforeseen or unavoidable disruption" that is likely to prevent voters voting at a polling place or places, or pose a risk to the proper conduct of the election. This can include a natural disaster, adverse weather condition, riot or disorder or threat thereof, epidemic notice or a cyberattack on the Electoral Commission's operating systems.

The stated purpose of the changes is to ensure a more flexible and pragmatic response to polling disruptions.