The ambitious electoral reform proposals, which include increasing voting rights to 16- and 17-year-olds and prisoners and restricting political donations, split politicians.
The provisional proposals, which fall under six topics and aim to make voting fairer, are open for public comment until July 17. The impartial group will provide the justice minister its final recommendations in November following the election.
ACT Party leader David Seymour branded it a “grab bag” of Green Party principles, while panel chair Deborah Hart stressed its independence.
She stated, “We are centred on the job we have been given to independently review our electoral system and we are not concerned at the politics, we are concerned at the principles (fairness and encouraging participation)”.
Disagreement among political parties exists over the interim recommendations of an electoral review
Green Party electoral reform spokesman Golriz Ghahraman advised her colleagues to listen to professionals and not politicize the matter.
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins claimed he wouldn’t reduce the voting age because National and ACT wouldn’t support it. A supermajority vote will not reach 75%.
I know many active, aware 16- and 17-year-olds who would make smart, informed voting selections. He acknowledged that Parliament does not have a supermajority supporting it.
The group also suggested a referendum on extending the legislative term to four years and two MMP changes: lowering the party vote threshold to 3.5% and eliminating the one electorate seat criterion.
Hipkins stated MMP works well presently.
“I’d like to see more discussion across parliament about declaring donations and whether there should be further restrictions on who can donate.”
Defence Minister Andrew Little suggested referenduming a four-year parliamentary term. “Three years is off.”
Since the Supreme Court had ruled it unconstitutional, there had to be “good reasons” to deny young people the vote.
I think 16- and 17-year-olds have a significant future investment. We should listen closely and I think they have a voice.”
He also supported giving all inmates the vote.
“I think a criminal who goes to prison should be imprisoned, not denied democratic rights.”
National Party leader Christopher Luxon supports efforts to extend the legislative term to four years, but electoral reform is not the topic ahead of October’s election.
Luxon opposed most of its interim suggestions, including giving all inmates the vote, allowing 16- and 17-year-olds vote, and changing MMP.
“New Zealanders are struggling, and education, health, and crime must be prioritized. That’s New Zealanders’ true concern.”
Mark Mitchell, National’s police spokesperson, said voting was a privilege.
Prisoners lose their freedom, travel, and voting rights. I think that’s a privilege, not a right.”
Because the legal system doesn’t recognize 16-year-olds as adults, he didn’t think they should vote either.
Ghahraman said the Labour Government could restore prisoner voting rights without National or ACT MP support, adding there was no criminal justice basis to take them away.
Where do we end if we start taking away fundamental rights when individuals go to prison? “It stops being about public safety and degrading those in there,” she added.
In a free and democratic society, our government’s constraints on our rights must be reasonable.
The government might restrict political donations to registered voters and cap them at $30,000 every election cycle.
“It’s too late for this election but not for the government to pick this up for the next round.”
Seymour rejected all suggestions. “None of the recommendations solve a New Zealand problem. “It’s a grab bag of Green Party policies that won’t improve anyone’s life,” he added.
“Electoral rules are fine. Policymaking using rules and regulations is problematic.”