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.”
*The Alert Level decision will be taken by Cabinet on August 26. The time periods between the date of Cabinet’s decision and overseas and advance voting dates, September 2 and September 5 respectively, are calculated from that date.