Proposed changes to the Electoral Amendment Bill appear to be an ill-considered solution to a minor problem, and lack an evidential basis and essential safeguards, the New Zealand Law Society says.
In its submission to the Justice and Electoral Committee the Law Society has recommended retaining ss197 and 198 of the Electoral Act in their current state as the proposed amendments are “irredeemably flawed”.
Law Reform Committee member David Cochrane says while the logic is to ensure fair and orderly elections it creates a raft of practical difficulties for electoral officials and police, and the defence in s197(2) is poorly worded and open to manipulation.
Amendments to s197 will see ribbons, streamers, rosettes or items of a similar nature no longer allowed to be worn or displayed in public or in view of a public place on election day – with the exception of scrutineers wearing rosettes.
Amendments to s198 will allow returning officers the power to order removal of such items from an individual’s clothing and/or vehicles although who will actually enforce these removals is not clearly defined.
Electoral Commission statistics showed dozens more complaints on election day in 2011 were about scrutineers wearing rosettes inside the polling booths.
“It isn’t clear that voters are easily influenced by the sight of a ribbon, streamer, or rosette on polling day,’’ says Mr Cochrane. “The Law Society is not aware of any evidence of this but if it is true, then scrutineers should not be allowed to wear rosettes in polling places; but they are, and will continue to be, for good reason.”
The Law Society also questions the appropriateness in the maximum penalty of $20,000 under the amended s197 for wearing ribbons and rosettes. It is ten times the maximum penalty under the Prohibition of Gang Insignia in Government Premises Act passed earlier this year for wearing gang insignia in Government premises. If the provisions are retained in a revised form, the Law Society believes these should be subject to a specific Bill of Rights Act report since the proposed changes to ss197 and 198 were not specifically addressed in the original advice.