Error misses off electors in Otago Regional Council by-election

Melva Crowley, of Cromwell, got her Otago Regional Council
by-election voting paper in the post in good time to meet ...
Jo McKenzie-McLean

Melva Crowley, of Cromwell, got her Otago Regional Council by-election voting paper in the post in good time to meet Tuesday's noon deadline - unlike a number of others who did not receive their voting papers due to an error.

Election campaigning is over for Ella Lawton and Gary Kelliher but the voting process has come under fire after a glitch missed some people out.

Wanaka resident Philip Thoreau alerted the Otago Regional Council and Dunedin City Council electoral officer Pam Jordan of the error on Thursday after not receiving voting papers.

Thoreau, who also owns a house in Auckland, said he rang the council thinking there was a delay and was shocked to learn voting papers had not been sent to them, but others as well.

"[Pam Jordan] explained to me there were some voting people left off the list...It turned out we had not been sent our voting papers and there were a number of people who also had not been sent their voting papers."

On Friday, they were sent a "half bait" letter from  the company contracted to run the by-election to their Auckland home, and enclosed was a voting paper with a FastPost envelope.

"I rang and said you have only allowed one and a half working days to get votes in. The electoral officer mentioned on the phone call a special voting provision yet there was no mention of it in the letter. What irritated me was the laid back attitude towards it...He told me others will not have received papers but that is not a justification and it's not an insignificant number given last year's election. I felt so angry I got hold of the candidates and they had not been told about it. These people are good enough to put themselves up to serve the community at least the people organising the election can ensure they do their best to get voting papers out. In the end they got them to us but only with one and a half working days to respond. That is hardly suitable."

"I understand when you have mailing lists things go wrong. It is how you fix it that matters and they didn't seem to take it very seriously."

The couple posted the vote off, and attached a note saying it arrived late.

"Who knows if it will get there on time or not." 

Electoral Officer Pam Jordan said there was a total of 42 ratepayer voters on the Queenstown Lakes District Council roll had been incorrectly omitted.

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"They were sent voting papers and FastPost return envelopes as soon as the omission was discovered. There are in excess of 36,000 electors eligible to vote in this by-election.  As this by-election covers two territorial authorities, the electoral roll has had to be manually prepared and the error has arisen from an incorrect flag setting when these records were loaded into the database."

The company had carried out a review of the process and were putting in place measures to ensure the error did not happen again, she said.

"The voting system is independently audited prior to each triennial election and I am satisfied from enquiries made that this is not a widespread problem."

Candidate Gary Kelliher said he was disappointed to learn of the oversight.

"I appreciated the efforts [Thoreau] went to. You have faith in the system that the system doesn't get it wrong and the electoral commission were at length to emphasis that to me last year."

During last year's ORC election, he lost his Dunstan Constituency seat by five votes to Michael Laws.

"If the issue wasn't raised by a concerned voter what would they have done? I suspect probably nothing. The lack of concern on their part is an issue. Ella and I have invested a lot of time, effort and money on this and you would like to see they would show a level of concern that matches the effort Ella and I put into the whole campaign."

Ella Lawton said she was upset and concerned to learn of the error.

"I have given it everything. I am totally concerned. I got really upset because some people are so passionate about voting and it is New Zealanders' right to have the opportunity to vote and some people were very upset they didn't get their papers. It is just not acceptable."

The error highlighted the failings of the system, she said.

"I was an advocate for online voting. There were a couple of councils that tested the online system last election and I am really keen to see the results of that and understand the pros and cons. We need to move into the 21st century. It's hard enough for people anyway, people are not in-tune with voting. For me, it has been a massive focus, just reminding people to vote."

"I was just as worried about NZ Post and the changes to that service. Some people didn't et their forms for weeks after they were meant to arrive in houses. Between the Electoral Commission and NZ Post, we need to do a better job. I will certainly be following it up afterwards. This election has taken everything."

As of Monday, June 19, there had been a 33 per cent return rate.

A by-election progress result, excluding special votes and last day hand-delivered votes, would be announced Tuesday afternoon. The final election result was expected to be released on Thursday once special votes had been processed, she said.

 - Stuff


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