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The BulletinJune 6, 2023

Major changes proposed for our elections


The voting age should be 16, we should have a referendum on extending the parliamentary term and donations to parties should be capped, says the interim report from the Independent Electoral Review, writes Anna Rawhiti-Connell in this excerpt from The Bulletin, The Spinoff’s morning news round-up. To receive The Bulletin in full each weekday, sign up here.

Big changes recommended to New Zealand’s electoral law

The Independent Electoral Review (IER) panel has released a summary of its interim report this morning and it’s recommending some big changes to New Zealand’s electoral law. Toby Manhire has all the details but the panel has recommended lowering the voting age to 16, capping party donations, a referendum on the parliamentary term and reducing the party vote threshold for heading to parliament. The Electoral Act would be rewritten to uphold Treaty of Waitangi principles and to make it easier to understand. Panel chair Deborah Hart says “There have been piecemeal changes to electoral law over many years, including some recently, but this review is an opportunity to step back and look at the bigger picture. While many parts of Aotearoa New Zealand’s electoral system work well, we found it can be improved.”

16-year-olds should be able to vote

Responding in a press release this morning, Make It 16 Co-Director Sage Garrett says the experts on the IER panel have joined a strong chorus of calls for the voting age to be lowered. A draft report from the Future for Local Government Review last year recommended that the age be lowered to 16 for local government elections. The Make It 16 group, who have been advocating for lowering the voting age, took a case to the Supreme Court late last year with the Court declaring that the provisions of the Electoral Act and of the Local Electoral Act which provide for a minimum voting age of 18 years are inconsistent with the right in s19 of the Bill of Rights to be free from discrimination on the basis of age. That bounced the ball back into the government’s court, with prime minister Chris Hipkins deferring the introduction of any legislation to change the age for general elections, while committing to a parliamentary vote on lowering the voting age for local elections only.

Cap party donations at $30k

Under new election donation rules introduced last year, from the start of 2023 donations over $20,000 must be declared by parties immediately and the names of the donors disclosed to the public. In March the Act party reported to the electoral commission that it had received 13 donations, all at the $50k or $100,000k mark. Act held a rally over the weekend with party leader David Seymour pulling up on stage in a Suzuki Swift. The IER review panel is recommending that donations to political parties be capped at $30k per election cycle and be restricted to registered voters only.

Not the only bold plan on the books

It’s not the only big proposal to come out in the last week. Last Thursday, Internal Affairs released a plan to regulate online content with a big focus on social media platforms. Shanti Mathias has a good explainer. As Tom Pullar-Strecker writes, it was released without much fanfare or fronting from Internal Affairs minister Barbara Edmonds. Pullar-Strecker suggests it may be that the government is a bit nervous about it. Alternatively, he writes, “it is perhaps refreshing to see a discussion document released free from the usual suspicion that ministers have already made up their minds on each topic.” As regular readers know, I occasionally develop small obsessions. The lag on the review that preceded this proposal, the static progress PDF on the Internal Affairs website haunting my dreams, has been one of them. That’s come back to bite me, and now you. I had a chat on Newhub Nation about the proposal on Sunday morning with the Herald’s editor-at-large Shayne Currie and joined Mathias and Duncan Greive on The Fold to discuss as well.

Keep going!