Monday, September 13, 2010

Electoral fraud has no place in our democracy

Earlier in the year, during the UK election, I read and commented on several reports of electoral fraud in the UK. An insecure postal ballot system and a C18th system for voter registration allows the creation of phantom voters and the "farming" of postal ballots - flaws which are exploited by unscrupulous candidates in an effort to steal victory in tight races.

I've read these reports with horror. Sadly, someone in Auckland seems to have treated them as a "how-to" guide. On Saturday, the Herald reported 90 voters registered to two suburban houses in Papatoetoe in what seems to be a clear case of electoral fraud:

The Weekend Herald can reveal 48 voters are listed as living in one Papatoetoe home and 39 are enrolled as living in another property in the same South Auckland suburb.

Another 300 people in 30 homes in the Papatoetoe subdivision of the Otara-Papatoetoe Local Board - part of the new Auckland Council's Manukau ward - are expected to come under scrutiny.

The Electoral Enrolment Centre picked this up, and it is being dealt with, but the fact that someone thought that it was acceptable is deeply disturbing. Electoral fraud has no place in our democracy (or any democracy). And any candidate who thinks such tactics are acceptable needs to be immediately dumped by their party. Some things are bigger than politics, and the integrity of our electoral system is one of them. This is something I expect all parties to be absolutely united on.

Meanwhile, it has also highlighted a hole in our electoral law: there is no penalty for this behaviour. The relevant voters can be removed from the roll, and if necessary an election can be overturned. But they can't be prosecuted. Its an offence in local government elections to farm ballot papers, or to vote more than once or in the name of a fictitious person. But its not an offence to intentionally make a false enrolment, or to procure such enrolments for electoral gain. It’s not even clear that its an offence to do that at a general election, as the clause banning procurement of voting by unqualified voters refers to people who have been disqualified, not to people who are making false enrolments.

This is a serious hole in our electoral law and it needs to be fixed ASAP. The integrity of our democracy depends on it.

Correction: The ever-vigilent Graeme Edgeler has pointed me at s118 of the Electoral Act 1993, which makes it an offence to make a false statement in any declaration under the Act (such as for registration). So, the falsely-registered voters can be prosecuted - but there seems to be nothing for those procuring the offence. That punishment will have to be political, for the moment at least. And given the "relaxed" way our police handle electoral offences (they prefer to be dealing with "more important" crimes, like burglaries or people smoking dope), then I don't think we'll be seeing much justice from them.