Explainer: Electoral law review

August 1, 2022

In October 2021, the Government announced a review into New Zealand’s electoral laws. The goal of the review is to make election rules fairer and clearer. Increased fairness and transparency is intended to increase voter participation.

 

The review panel will be chaired by Deborah Hart. Members include Dr Maria Bargh, Professor Andrew Geddis, Alice Mander, Robert Peden and Dr Lara Greaves. The panel was appointed by an independent panel of experts.

 

Expected Time Frame

 

Between June and November 2022, the panel are expected to release a summary of the issues and a range of potential solutions. They are then expected to conduct broad engagement. A draft report will be released between December 2022 and May 2023. Following further work and engagement, the final report is expected to be presented to the Minister at the end of November 2023 for public release.

 

Scope of the Review

 

The Panel’s terms of reference are setout in four key areas for investigation, and provide they cannot investigate online voting, alternatives to MMP, the future of Māori electorate seats, local electoral law or any other fundamental constitutional change (outside of the key areas).

 

Legislative Framework

 

The panel will look at the overall design of the legislative framework governing the electoral system. This will involve looking at issues such as whether the current use of instruments such as primary and secondary legislation strike the right balance between certainty and flexibility. In addition, the panel must consider whether fundamental electoral rights should be protected through reserved provisions. A reserved provision is one which requires a 75% majority to pass or a majority of valid votes in a referendum.

 

Fit for purpose electoral regime

 

The panel will consider how a fit-for-purpose electoral regime can be maintained for voters, parties and candidates. This involves assessing the underlying policies and rules which govern the electoral system. This is where the panel will consider issues such as lowering the voting age, any permanent changes to restrictions for overseas voting, and potential changes to political financing.

 

Past recommendations

 

The panel will consider recommendations made by the Justice Select Committee and the Electoral Commission in response to historic elections. This will include the 2012 Electoral Commissions’ recommendations for improvements to MMP. Considerations include lowering the party vote threshold from 5% to 4% and removing the coattail provision which allows minor parties to bring in additional list MPs if they win an electorate seat but did not surpass 5% party vote.

 

Parliamentary Term

 

The panel to will look at altering the length of the parliamentary term. Given both National and Labour committed at the 2020 election to explore a 4 year term proposal, any recommendation made i slikely to be to retain the 3 year term or increase to a 4 year term.

 

Consultation and Public Engagement

 

Opportunities for public consultation have not yet been announced as the review is still in its first stages. However, it is expected public engagement will occur at various times between June 2022 and May 2023. There will also be opportunities to submit during the select committee stage of any relevant legislative changes.

 

Other Relevant Changes

 

Prior to the final recommendations being made in the final report and the 2023 general election, the government are also making some smaller targeted changes. The recommendations of the Panel will not be implemented until after the 2023general election.

 

The Government already announced temporary changes to overseas voter eligibility for the 2023 general election. The amount of time a citizen can spend overseas will increase from 3 years to 6 years before becoming ineligible to vote. Similarly, for permanent residents, there will be an increase from 1 year to 3 years.

 

Following consultation earlier this year, the Government has announced that prior to the 2023 general election, there will be targeted changes made to the rules which govern political donations and loans. The changes will require political parties to disclose:

-         Donor identities for any party donations above $5,000.

-         The number and total value of non-anonymous party donations under $1,500.

-         What proportion of total party donations are non-monetary.

-         Any loans to candidates from unregistered lenders.

 

The Electoral (Māori Electoral Option)Legislation Bill is also before Parliament. If passed, the Bill would allow Māori to freely transfer between the Māori and the general electoral rolls.

The Government has also stated they are considering changes to electoral law following the verdict in the New Zealand First donations case (R v EF and RG [2022] HC)

Next steps

The scope of the review is extensive however, we won’t know the full extent of changes until the first set of issues and potential proposals are released later this year.

If you would like to understand more about electoral law, please contact Director Brigitte Morten

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