Will the 2020 election be delayed, and if so till when?

Winston Peters has demanded it be bumped back from September 19. Is that likely, and when might the new day be? Plus: Peters’ letter to Jacinda Ardern in full

On the eighth day of 2020 the Spinoff Election Prediction Lab Committee (“Sepulchre”) predicted correctly that the election would be held on September 19.

Recent events and conjecture have promoted the committee to hastily reconvene via mind palace to reconsider whether the election will or will not be delayed.

The date of the election is the prerogative of the prime minister, and she can in effect unilaterally shift the election date to as late as November 21.

Judith Collins and the National Party have called for a delay to the election date, going so far as to suggest it be postponed until next year. That would require parliament to vote by a 75% super majority.

This afternoon Winston Peters and NZ First have also publicly called for a delay, releasing a letter sent to Ardern last Friday – the full text of the press release and letter is below.

Do Collins and Peters have a point? The Electoral Commission is geared up for an election under Covid restrictions, but there are nevertheless very reasonable concerns around what a level two election might mean for campaigning and for turnout. Remember that domestic voting as it stands opens as soon as September 5, and last time around half of us voted in the advance polling fortnight.

Not only do Collins and Peters have a point, they also have a majority of MPs in the house. As mentioned, the election date is the decision of the prime minister – see for example slurred snap election revelations of the past – but would she really wish to overrule the implicit majority of the House of Representatives?

At the end of his release this afternoon, Peters said this: “We are releasing our letter of August 14 for the sake of transparency, and because we believe the governor general of New Zealand needs to know that the majority in the House of Representatives favours an election delay.”

It’s a very pointed thing to say. If he wants to go nuclear, Peters can withdraw confidence. At an impromptu press conference this afternoon he said she continued to enjoy the confidence of his MPs, but he didn’t say what he’d do if the prime minister didn’t push the date back. Were Peters to push that particular button and in the absence of the house sitting, he’d presumably express if in writing to the governor general. As I understand it, she would then see if anyone else had sufficient numbers to form an alternative government; failing that and with no prospect of a government being formed, she’d go ahead and decide on an election date herself.

Peters also said in the letter he has spoken to the prime minister. Perhaps he was unhappy with her response, sensing she was disinclined to change the date. Perhaps she just told him it was her decision and he should shove off and tell some more stuff he heard from journalist friends to Australian television. Perhaps he reckoned the date was going to move and just wanted to get some credit for it: It’s the Winston wot won it.

The likelihood is that Ardern would have pushed back the date irrespective of Peters’ performance this afternoon. It’s a hard decision to make when you’re commanding well over 50% in the polls, to be sure. But given her leadership is considerably forged in being conciliatory and, well, kind, the better option is to take the magnanimous high ground.

And if so, when? Far enough that it provides a little contingency for going down the alert level rungs. Not so far ahead that the momentum of the campaign under way already dissipates and we all have to start all over again.

In January, the committee predicted the final three contenders for the election date as September 12, September 19, and October 17. The reasons included the timing of summits (no longer applicable), All Black tests (no longer applicable) and school holidays (still probably applicable). They mostly hold, however.

And so and thus and therefore, the prediction is that tomorrow morning at 10am the prime minister will announce the election date will be nudged four weeks down the track, to October 17.


Winston Peters’ press release and letter to the prime minister

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters today called for a delay to the election as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak.

“Since Monday evening, August 10, we have said that our health response must come first and politics second. That remains our view as the case numbers rise each day.

“We know we don’t have a unique strain of the virus, and that the Americol connection does not exist, as product from that source has not been imported into the country for months, so the border remains the likely source of the outbreak.

“More’s the point, there is now no ability to conduct a free and fair election if the Prime Minister decides to hold the General Election on September 19,” stated Mr Peters.

“In 1984, when Robert Muldoon called a snap election, parties still had 29 days to campaign. In 2002, when Helen Clark went to the polls early, parties had 44 days.

“If September 19 is confirmed political parties will have only six days to campaign before overseas voting begins on September 2 and nine days before advance voting begins.*

“In neither earlier case (1984 and 2002) was pressure being placed on special voting processes, as would be the case in 2020. Special voting was extremely rare in those two earlier elections (with 90 percent of votes cast on Election Day in 2002), with voters having to qualify for a special vote.

“There is no comparison between special voting then as opposed to now, where it is a commonplace alternative to voting on Election Day. Indeed, only 44 percent of votes at the 2017 General Election were cast on Election Day.

“We therefore have real concerns about the state of preparedness of the Electoral Commission and our postal service to process in a timely fashion an unprecedented deluge of special votes.

“Voters are sovereign and when and what day they vote must be their choice, not the government’s. Any proposed staggering of their vote in the election across several weeks is a weakening of and serious interference in our democracy. Voters would be asked by government to exercise their franchise with different levels of information from each other and that is unacceptable.

“This government decided to enable for the first time same Election Day registration and voting in an attempt to boost turnout. Any decision that compromises the turnout, as holding the election on September 19 would, undermines that goal as well.

“Operating the election at Alert Level 2 in Auckland raises concerns about the effect on turnout. The psychology of Auckland voters, as well as the wider voting community, is highly likely to lead to a reduced turnout given legitimately held health fears; by how much is the real concern.

“Voters need to be able to hear from all political parties about their Covid response and other policies. That is fair. But until Auckland’s alert level comes down the playing field is hopelessly compromised, said Mr Peters.

“New Zealand First wrote to the Prime Minister on August 14 to convey our concerns. We did so sadly because it is so obviously apparent that the Covid outbreak is compromising our ability to hold a free and fair election on September 19.

“Since then we have had a conversation with the Prime Minister.

“New Zealand First believes we risk undermining the legitimacy of the election result, creating an awful precedent which could be abused by the Prime Minister’s successors.

“People will be driven to the conclusion, in the absence of any empirical evidence to the contrary, that the election date choice is being forced from a minority position to achieve a certain outcome.

“This is a most regrettable yet avoidable situation. We are here as Members of Parliament first and foremost, not just as members of political parties.

“We are releasing our letter of August 14 for the sake of transparency, and because we believe the Governor General of New Zealand needs to know that the majority in the House of Representatives favours an election delay.”

*

Dear Prime Minister

‘Matters for Decision’

We are writing to you to express New Zealand First’s strong view that as a result of the reintroduction of Covid-19 into our community it is neither fair nor desirable to hold the General Election on September 19.

Community transmission in Auckland has already massively disrupted electioneering, with all political parties suspending their campaigns. Given uncertainty around when Auckland will be able to move to alert level 2 – at the earliest a decision will be made on Friday August 21 or, alternatively, Wednesday 26 August – the ability for parties to campaign for a September 19 election is already fatally compromised.

The concept of holding a ‘free and fair’ election is directly related to the public’s perceptions of political legitimacy, legitimacy of the outcome, as well as trust and confidence in the integrity of the General Election, the campaigns that precede it, as well as deliverability.

Given overseas voting begins on September 2 and advance voting begins on September 5, any delay in moving to Alert Level 2 in Auckland will undermine the legitimacy of a September 19 election. It will be neither free nor fair. The psychology of Auckland voters, as well the wider voting community, is highly likely to lead to reduced turnout given legitimately-held health fears; by how much is the real concern. That is not a risk any responsible Prime Minister should take, especially when two later dates, October 17 and November 21 are available.




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