SUBMISSION BY NZ OUTDOORS PARTY to the Justice Committee on the 2020 Elections

fresh_water

This directive is lodged by the NZ OUTDOORS PARTY, a registered political party under the Electoral Act.

The NZ OUTDOORS PARTY has a rapidly growing and active membership, who value freedom and New Zealand, including its people, tikanga and environment.

The NZ OUTDOORS PARTY promotes connection of New Zealanders with each other and with nature.

The OUTDOORS PARTY promotes:

  • democracy where people play an active role in decision making, knowing their views are valued and will be listened to.
  • freedom from excessive government and international interference in the lives of New Zealanders;
  • more self-sufficiency for New Zealand and New Zealanders,
  • better care of our water, land, soil, wildlife and of our people.
  • natural and organic regenerative approaches to agriculture to promote community wellbeing and thriving rural communities and local businesses.
  • “localism” to encourage and empower local people to support their local communities and have an active role in decision which affect the health and wellbeing of their community;
  • food and body sovereignty;
  • transparent representation and informed decision making which will promote a long-term vision for protecting and promoting the interests of all New Zealanders, our children and grandchildren.

The NZ OUTDOORS PARTY wishes to be heard in person on this directive to the Select Committee.

There were so many issues with the 2020 election that it is hard to know where to start. However, I will attempt to cover our main concerns and if possible give recommendations for changes. For the Electoral Commission to be of any value, these changes must be made for New Zealand to maintain a democratic state.


1) POLLS


a) Emerging parties, including The NZ Outdoors Party and others, were
deliberately kept out of the polls by “market researchers” not giving participants the choice of voting for certain registered parties – participants were not allowed to state the party of their choice. Poll participants were told “that’s not an option you can choose” so their choice went down as “undecided or refused”. One poll in particular, went on to declare their results with an entire 14% as “don’t know/refused”. This is duplicitous when you know that people were not given the option of their preferred
party. That ‘14%’ who were put down as ‘undecided or refused’ is a massive chunk of the voting population.
b) Emerging parties are not given a chance to debate on television if they are polling under 3%. How does one get above the magic 3% if the Outdoors Party (amongst others) is not given as a choice in a poll? The hiding of polling results highlighted in (a) means that those corporations running the polls also control the election result. We believe this to be in serious conflict with our national democracy.
c) By not disclosing the poll results correctly, none of us can tell if the election results were different from how the nation polled
d) Refusing to allow a party to be named in a poll, makes the companies
conducting the polls appear untrustworthy and fraudulent.

Solution:

All registered political party names must be included in online polls, phone polls and those numbers reported accurately. To not do so must be a criminal offense.

2) On line “how to vote” websites – the issues

i) Vote Compass and other online “how to vote” systems did not include certain minor parties in their ‘who to vote for’ choices.
ii) The Electoral Commission website promoted these ‘how to vote’ tools on their own website as places to go to find (their words) “all the information” about the political parties running in the 2020 election.
iii) When told that this was unjust, the Electoral Commission legal team said that “On the Fence have applied a threshold for inclusion where a registered party is included if they are currently in Parliament or are polling at 0.5% at the beginning of August.”
If we go back to Polls in section 1, it is clear that if emerging parties are not allowed to be chosen in a poll, or if they are, then are not included, then how could a party get over the 0.5% to be included in “On the Fence”. This shows how unjust the system is towards emerging parties or anyone who doesn’t fit with the narrative demanded by these powerful national influencers. This is a double manipulation by the corporations that run the polls and those hosting the website that promotes ‘how to vote’.
iv) When asked why Vote Compass did not include certain emerging parties
(including The Outdoors Party) they explained that they “are not able to include parties that they cannot fully calibrate, i.e. who do not have identifiable policy positions on the full range of issues that are contemplated in Vote Compass (which reflect the salience attributed to these issues by the New Zealand public as determined by a nationally representative survey they run in advance of launching Vote Compass). Vote Compass algorithms can only compute the proximity between
a user and a party if that party is fully calibrated across all the propositions included in the survey instrument on the basis of public disclosures. An examination of every registered party’s policy platforms was undertaken prior to the launch of Vote Compass. Vote Compass confirmed that their analysis determined that the New Zealand Outdoors Party had not presented the policy breadth necessary for inclusion.”
v) And yet Vote Compass did not contact The NZ Outdoors Party for their policy on those issues for which they wanted answers. If we don’t know what Vote Compass wished to achieve, it’s very hard to write those exact policies. Either way, to not be included at all as a possible party to vote for, means that voters would never know that there was/is an alternative.
vi) Vote Compass and On The Fence could have contacted the emerging parties to ask them for those range of policies that were pertinent to them. And to show their bias, Vote Compass did include NZ First which has no policies up on their website at all, so their claim that they needed all the information to include a party does not hold true. You could argue that NZ First is already in parliament, but other ‘emerging parties’ had far more detail on policy than NZF and still didn’t ‘make the cut’.
vii) If these companies have foreign ownership, then failing to expose the voting public to minor parties counts as foreign interference in our elections.
Solution:

1) The Electoral Commission be THE organisation that has all that data in one place, creates the “GO TO” website, not leaving the job to agenda driven
private companies and corporations. The Electoral Commission creates the
spreadsheet comparing and contrasting policies and includes all the general
and specialised policies of a registered party. The EC receives all that data
four months before the election to collate and ensure inclusion and
opportunity and ease of engagement for voters.
2) As soon as foreign and or corporate interference in our elections is
discovered, the EC must be able to deal with it immediately and appropriately, including but not limited to
i) a public announcement to inform the public what has occurred and
ii) a public apology by the offending organisation
iii) EC involvement to support the registered party that had been interfered
against in a way that puts them back on an equal footing in the election cycle.
iv) Before the next election, making it a criminal offence for a foreign entity to interfere in the New Zealand election process with serious consequences for that entity.
3) The Electoral Commission needs to be flexible enough to manage the issues AT THE TIME they are happening. In the 2020 cycle they refused to make any attempt to correct this when they were informed of the problem. These issues need to be fixed they are recognised, otherwise the elections are meaningless and makes the Electoral Commission appear complicit.

3) Local Candidate Meetings:

Many parties/candidates were not invited to ‘meet the candidate’ meetings, and when they asked to be included were denied. This is a complete disregard of the democratic process.

Solution:

The Electoral Commission needs to make it very clear this is not acceptable. The EC must support candidates to not be discriminated against and ensure that all candidates be invited to attend and speak at these events.

4) Election Broadcast funding:

The way broadcasting funding is allocated is so wrong as to be abhorrent to the average New Zealander. How is a new registered party meant to compete with the million dollars that major parties are allocated to spend on public broadcasts? The Outdoors Party was allocated for $53,000 maximum compared to the $1.2 million plus for Labour and National Parties.

Solution:

1) All registered parties get the same broadcasting funding allocation.
AND/OR
2) As suggested earlier, the Electoral Commission does all the broadcasting, in a neutral manner that has no advertising as such, just factual information about each party and their candidates and their main policies and philosophies. This removes the cult of personality from New Zealand politics and means that all parties and policies get a fair representation in the media.

5) Unjust media coverage:

Not just during this election cycle but also in previous elections, media coverage was highly unfair and rigged against emerging political parties.
No one missed the glaring example of media bias in the 2020 election cycle with Jacinda Ardern constantly in the public eye, with no journalists asking difficult questions or questioning her party’s policy on Covid or action on homelessness etc. It was shocking for those of us who were hoping to offer New Zealanders an alternative to vote for, to see certain politicians constantly on the television, radio, newspaper, etc around election time without any criticism of policies around the covid response, information about possible alternatives, issues around the government’s handling of the housing crisis and so on.

This sycophantic media approach makes a mockery of our ‘democratic process’ and robs kiwis of the opportunity to make informed choices without spending hours attempting to gather information to balance information from a fawning and biased media. The Electoral Commission needs to keep the media in check to ensure truthful reporting, particularly around election time. The loss of our ‘Fourth Estate’ means the narrative is controlled mostly by corporate owned media, who have also been funded by the government due to the covid response.

Whether media thinks a party is “crazy” and shouldn’t be given a platform, is censorship and means that the media doesn’t trust kiwis to be able to tell extreme and fanatical from valid alternative viewpoint. We believe that New Zealanders are able to decide for themselves who will make a valuable contribution to NZ governance, and therefore all registered parties having ‘airtime’ allows them enough exposure for people to make informed voting decisions. The lack of media coverage of minor parties during an election is leaving a large part of the community feeling completely unrepresented. If it is the EC’s job to encourage new Zealanders to vote, then giving all parties exposure to a wider audience than just their membership means that people are more likely to vote.

Solution:

(i) The Electoral Commission should ensure each political party gets the same media coverage as each other party – for example; the same time that the Prime Minister gets to speak on National Radio should be balanced by the same time given to the representatives of all political parties. If this is not possible due to time constraints, then the PM (during election timing) should not be given that platform.
(ii) Prior to and during election time (let’s say three months) television, radio stations and newspapers should give balanced air time and page space to all registered parties without preference given to one or other party and candidates and without bias. EC should function to enforce a policy to prevent and manage media assassination and discrimination of individuals and parties, and prevent media using cherry picked statements out of context to discriminate against a party. (iii) The Electoral Commission must function to remove media bias to artificially raise a particular party profile.

6) Campaigning Inconsistencies during election:

The Electoral commission says “no campaigning outside voting stations” however someone noted Labour/Jacinda Ardern signs throughout a shopping mall that also had a voting booth. There are several examples of this occurring all over the country. Few rules for the ‘ruling’ political parties, endless rules for the rest of us. The EC needs to manage this better to avoid this type of inconsistency.

7) Foreign interference in the NZ 2020 Election:

i) Facebook refused to run any advertisements for the NZ Outdoors Party stating that we were conspiracy theorists and posted incorrect information. This prevented us spending $15000 of our allocated budget on social media, and forced us instead into a handful of radio advertisements (for which we were ultimately overcharged by the radio station). This was totally unfair and the Electoral Commission did not stand in and support us against this global bully.
ii) Facebook ‘ring-fenced’ our political page and limited our reach, not just during the election but before as well. You can call this ‘algorithms at work’ but it appears that it is interference from a foreign multi-national corporation for the purpose of reducing the reach of an opponent political party.
iii) Funding for political parties from overseas – so in this election, parties could not receive foreign donations of more than $50. That is a good start, however, money can easily be funded through businesses in New Zealand. And therefore it looks like local donation, but is not really.
In one case, a political party was not registered and was receiving funds without having to disclose the source, and then passed those funds on to another political party. This back handed way of doing politics is deceptive and fraudulent. When this was pointed out to the EC they did nothing about it.
iv) As previously stated the issue around polls as foreign interference, already covered.

The Outdoors Party solution to interference to NZ elections by overseas
parties is four fold
:


1) only individuals, New Zealand citizens or permanent residents, and party
members can donate to a political party
2) you can only be the member of one party to prevent this ‘investing’ in two or three opposing parties.
3) Set a limit, fairly low, to the amount that can be donated. This encourages people to be involved in politics by supporting their party and reduces corporate interference.
4) Stop / criminalise the power that Facebook and other social media platforms have to interfere with and censor truthful information disseminated by political parties.

8) Referenda:

Who decides what people were given the choice to vote on and what they weren’t? There was no referendum on issues that affect many of us, such as gun laws, the TPPA or 1080, fluoridation of water, foreign ownership of land and water rights. All manner of the things that matter to New Zealanders were ignored as possible topics in the referendum.
Sixty thousand people signed a petition to be able to vote to ban 1080 and
brodifacoum, but it needed 350,000 signatures to be included as a citizen initiated referendum in the election. What made it worse was that the extra time given to get more numbers was affected by Covid ‘lockdown’ and no further time given to achieve this herculean task. It’s actually easier to be voted into government (5% of the entire vote count) than it is to achieve a citizen initiated referendum (10% of eligible voters).
Solutions:

1) Reduce the number of people required to trigger a referendum to 50,000. Lowering the barriers to participation means more people will attempt this mammoth task and more people will engage with politics. At the moment, it feels like a waste of time.
2) Create an electronic ‘direct democracy’ weekly/monthly referendums on the big issues of the day so people feel engaged and involved in politics.
3) Create an independent Munks debate type organisation for weekly/monthly debates by experts in the field, on controversial and complex issues that New Zealanders need more information on to make informed decisions for our current and future wellbeing. Munksdebate.com
4) Create Citizens Assemblies, so we can better share individual perspectives to come to meaningful conclusions and solutions that fully represent all members of our communities.

9) Signs:

Road signs are of concern due to the dreadful wastefulness (plastic core flute mostly) required to cover the whole of New Zealand in political advertising. As well as the unfairness of the wealthy parties spending enormous amounts on this visual pollution and “MacDonalds” approach to advertising. General advertising in other places as well, overwhelm the conscious and subconscious mind with party and candidate advertising.

Solution:

Road signs: Allow only two (or three or four) signs per party, or per candidate for each electoral region. Only a few specific locations that they can be erected. General advertising: Similar to road signs – reduce allowed advertising to a ‘reasonable’ amount. Alternatively, no advertising except via EC website (as suggested above)

10) Misuse of taxpayer funds:

Highly visible ‘not advertising’, (parliamentary funded) such as letters and brochures in everyone’s letter box, promoting specific local MPs already in parliament for that electorate or new electorate boundry.
Pre-election advertising before the EC broadcast funding kicked in, promoting the local MP for that region and his/her achievements. Paid for out of Parliamentary funds, circumnavigating EC rules by doing it before the EC broadcasting rules kicked in.

Solution:

There should not be any party promotions, deliberate promotion of MP by
political party/candidate six months before an election.
No use of parliamentary privileges six months before an election for
electioneering i.e. use of parliamentary travel funds. MP’s should be paying for party promotion via their own party or their personal funds.

11) The Electoral Act 1993 is outdated, written without any
references to manual or computer handling of voting data.

1) There are no references to a means to audit/compare tabulated election
data to the original data.
2) There is no defined way to audit the tabulating programs on the
computer.
3) The computer is reporting voter place data to the Television and public in
‘real time’ on voting day so is ‘live’ on the internet and at great risk of being
hacked.
4) The “Official count”, done the day following the election, does not in any
way validate the vote counts shown on the TV. It is compartmentalised and only compares ballot counts in a single voting place to the preliminary count of that voting place.
These are all very concerning failures of the process.
A critical flaw is that there is no way to check that the vote counts in the electorate polling places on 17th October 2020 (the sum of many “Certificate of results” counts generated by the polling places) is reflected in the final results published on 5th November 2020. The count relies totally on tabulation within the Electoral Management Computer. The integrity of the process, from voting to publishing results, does not allow a manual audit trail. The process appears to impede any audit, stop observational assessments to be made on voting trends and allow easy access (at many stages) to the voting information.

Solution:

There needs to be an ability to manually compare (and sum) the many “Certificate of Results” counts generated by the polling places to the “spread sheet” compiled electronically and printed off from the “Election Management System” (CATALYST computer). The information on each electorate’s many “Certificate of Results” forms should match that recorded on the lines of the computer generated spreadsheet. There will then be transparency to enable comparison of the totals calculated from
the “Certificate of Results” to the “Official Results Certificate” for each electorate. If they do not correlate, it should trigger a forensic audit of the actual ballots by an independent agency.
The election process should also be subject to an independent manual external audit to ensure transparency in the election process.


The NZ Outdoors Party gives notice that it would like to be heard in support of this directive.

Tracy Livingston
For The New Zealand Outdoors Party

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Tracy Livingston

Tracy Livingston

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