Wednesday, June 12, 2013

No wonder people don't join political parties

So, United Future is apparently ready to re-register as a party, but has been held up by the Electoral Commission's insistence on paper membership records.

As someone who has grown up in the internet age, this is simply backwards. In an age where I can get a passport, do my taxes, or submit on legislation online, the idea that I have to fill out an actual paper form to join a political party (as opposed to any other organisation) is just arcahic. But its also possibly illegal. Why? Because in 2002, Parliament passed the Electronic Transactions Act 2002, the thrust of which is basically "electronic stuff counts". While a lot of the specific requirements of the Act do not apply to meeting the legal requirements of the Electoral Act (because if we're going to do electronic voting, it has to be right), the general provisions, including the overarching one that "to avoid doubt, information is not denied legal effect solely because it is in electronic form or is in an electronic communication", do. So is there a specific reason under the Electoral Act to deny an electronic membership form legal effect?

No. When it comes to proof of membership of a political party, all the Electoral Act says is that applications to register must

be accompanied by evidence, in a form approved by the Electoral Commission, that the party has at least 500 current financial members who are eligible to enrol as electors
So basically the Electoral Commission could accept electronic membership records; they just choose not to. And that choice appears to be contrary to S 8 of the Electronic Transactions Act 2002.

Administrative decisions cannot trump the law. The Electoral Commission needs to drag itself into the 21st century and start accepting electronic memberships. And who knows? Perhaps if you don't need to use bronze-age technology to participate, people might actually start joining political parties again.