In an ideal world we’d all be well informed on local body election candidates and issues.
Sadly few of us are and many depend on the booklets which accompany voting papers to make their decisions.
This year some candidates have been missed from the book and others have had their photos and details mismatched.
Stephen Franks blogs:
An unknown number of candidate profile electorate booklets have been circulated with pages missing.
The mistakes seem likely to affect the result of the elections in affected areas, even if the number of booklets circulated is small, if the missing pages were concentrated in those areas;
Affected candidates could have a right to a new election;
Officials are downplaying the seriousness of the problem.
We’ve been instructed by a public spirited client to help shine a light on the problem. He’s instructed us to offer rewards for the necessary evidence. The announcement is set out below.
If it turns out that few deficient booklets were circulated, he will be relieved. He’ll feel this exercise will have been worth the expense, just for the reassurance that New Zealand is not as far toward casual corruption as he fears. It will be worth it to know that a cover-up is not underway.
I’m concerned that it should be necessary. The responsible Minister and officials should be more active. We need to see reassuring vigilance and vigour from the Police, and the Department of Internal Affairs. Whatever the result our donor will have done what he feels is his duty as a citizen.
The media release from Franks and Ogilvie explains:
Wellington specialist public law firm Franks & Ogilvie will pay rewards and prizes for whistle-blowers to establish the scale of the local election booklet botch-up. A client who wishes to remain anonymous will fund the prizes and rewards.
“The client is appalled by what he fears is an official cover-up” said Stephen Franks, a principal of the public law specialist firm. “Candidates and people helping them face prison for breaching even trivial electoral rules without proof that the breach would change a single vote. Across the country hundreds of elected positions may be determined by a few votes.”
In Auckland alone, at the last election a number of local board positions were decided on margins of less than 10 votes, and the margin for election to Council was as low as 253 votes.”
“In New Zealand rights of free electoral speech and advertising are severely restricted. We’ve taken away rights that are normal in most democracies. Billboards are confined to a few sites and the Police do not protect them from vandalism. So we’re driving candidates and parties to rely on official channels – most voters will have nothing more than the candidate booklet to inform them.”
“That happens in corrupt places like Russia, then candidates get mysteriously ‘missed out’ of registers and ballot papers and so forth. New Zealanders are trusting. But the donor is worried that we are letting integrity slide away. Our local postal elections are now seriously vulnerable to fraud.”
“Our client is appalled that there has not been an immediate announcement of an independent inquiry. It should be held so we can know that the ‘mistakes’ are genuinely immaterial and innocuous. New Zealanders need to know how many candidates are affected, whether there is a sinister pattern to it, and the likely consequences. In particular, in the words of the section giving a right to a fresh election, we all need to know whether a mistake will “affect the result of the election”.
“In case there is a determined attempt at a cover-up, we may have to rely on citizen action now, to know. Officials are saying ‘nothing to see here’. But our client has reason to believe that there were tens of thousands of defective booklets found by emergency teams of temps. It is possible that many faulty booklets had already been dispatched.”
A judge deciding whether an irregularity has affected the result of the election will need to know:
- Approximately how many voters and booklets were affected?
- Which candidates were affected?
“We need to know this now,” says Mr Franks. “In a month how many people will still have their booklets? How many will even know they were missing pages of names if they do not look and report now?”
Delivery of booklets with relevant pages missing will earn $1500 for the person who delivers most before 5pm Monday 7 October, $600 for the next most, and $400 for the third most. Please send to Franks & Ogilvie, PO Box 10388, Wellington.
The prizes will be paid only to collectors willing to give evidence if necessary, as to how they collected them.
Each booklet must be certified by the person who provides it to the collector, that it has not been mutilated or otherwise materially changed from the condition in which it was distributed, and that person must add their name and address where they received the booklet and contact email or phone number.
We’re also taking messages (email@example.com) about defective booklets.
Rewards for whistle-blowing
Rewards to compensate for time and trouble will be paid at our discretion to whistle-blowers. The client may recompense for information materially useful in knowing:
- whether there has been a cover-up;
- when the problem was first known;
- what steps were taken to remedy it;
- who knew or reported at high levels; and
- whether the official responses were proper in relation to the seriousness.
Please contact Stephen Franks (via firstname.lastname@example.org) or leave a message on 04 815 8036 if you have relevant information. Use a pseudonym if you wish. We will maintain confidentiality. The information will matter more at this stage than who provides it.
Our decision on entitlement to a reward or prize is final.
Yesterday Leighton Smith interviewed Christine Rankin who is one of the candidates whose entry was completely missing from the booklet.
She said she didn’t think the errors and omissions were deliberate but pointed out that some people will already have voted before corrected booklets are delivered.
That some mistakes were made is bad enough but her impressions was that someone knew about it but made no effort to let people know which is even worse.