What went wrong?
A month ago, we submitted over 38,000 signatures to the Waitakere Licensing Trust. But on Thursday, the scrutineer found that it was 934 short of the 16,910 required to trigger a referendum. How did that happen?
In a nutshell, not enough signatures could be matched with the electoral roll and amongst the ones that did match there were too many duplicates.
Didn’t you check them?
We’d done work to estimate both the hit-rate to the electoral roll and the number of duplicates. Neither of those is a simple task.
The electoral roll is not readily available to the public – you can see a printed copy of the roll at the electoral registry (when it’s open), but it isn’t available electronically. Printed rolls are usually several months out of date (depending on when they last printed them) and are organized by electorate. So to check signatures for The Trusts’ districts requires looking through the rolls for: Kelston, Te Atatū, New Lynn, Kaipara ki Mahurangi, Mt Roskill, Mt Albert, Tāmaki Makaurau and Te Tai Tokerau.
Local rolls are slightly easier as they’re organized by local board – there’s only 6 of them (Whau, Waitākere Ranges, Henderson-Massey, Upper Harbour, Albert-Eden and Rodney). But they’re only generated every three years for the local elections so they are two years old at the moment.
We checked random samples of signatures manually against these paper rolls to estimate the hit-rate. We also got some help from ACT MP Simon Court (Members of Parliament have access to the electronic electoral roll), whose staff checked a sample for us too. In the end, our estimate of the hit-rate was fairly accurate.
Checking for duplicates isn’t easy either. Most of the signatures were collected on paper forms and so to check for duplicates requires typing ALL the forms into an electronic format. We did some of them, but towards the end we chose to focus the resources we had available to collecting more signatures rather than typing up the ones we already had. With limited resources, we can’t do everything.
The scrutineer found we had more duplicates than we had estimated. We thought we had between 20% and 25% duplicates, but the actual figure was closer to 33%. This is where we fell down.
Why were so many signatures not valid?
The hit-rate to the electoral roll was in-line with what we expected.
The scrutineer found 886 were incomplete or illegible. We submitted all the signatures we had, including some we considered low-quality and unlikely to be valid (just in case some of them counted), so this was expected.
There were 13,652 signatures which were complete / legible but didn’t match the electoral roll. About 3,000 of those were from people who live just outside the district; particularly Herald Island, Riverhead, Kumeu, Waimauku, Muriwai. These are people affected by the monopoly (they shop here!), but unfortunately they’re not eligible electors and so don’t get to have a say.
That leaves about 10,500 who gave an address within the district but weren’t enrolled to vote at that address. Some of those will be people who have moved away (and updated the roll) since they signed, but the vast majority are people who live in the district but still have an old address on the electoral roll. Even if someone has changed address, but remains living within the district (i.e. they are eligible to sign at either address), if the address they’ve given doesn’t match the roll – it didn’t count. There’s also a sizeable proportion of under 30’s who aren’t enrolled to vote at all.
Why so many duplicates?
The high rate of duplicates is a result of the time it took to collect the signatures and the limited number of collection locations available. Not everyone shops at Pak n Save! Countdown’s position of not allowing us to collect near their stores really hurt us here.
Was the checking process dodgy?
We have absolute confidence in the impartiality and professionalism of the scrutineer. The Trusts didn’t tamper with the boxes either. Nothing untoward happened during the checking of the petition.
The legal requirements and the checking process makes achieving a successful petition very difficult (heavily stacked in favour of the status-quo), but that’s a different issue.
Can you get a recount or challenge the decision?
Not easily. There’s no provision for a recount or a challenge of the scrutineering in the legislation so the only avenue is probably a judicial review. But we don’t think they’ve got it wrong anyway, the lawful process has been followed and we’ve come up short. We just need to deal with that.
We don’t know yet. We’re going to take a bit of time before deciding what to do next.