Thursday 24 November 2011

Election gag

Usually I get to be smug about stupid laws that New Zealand doesn't have. But not in this case. The Electoral Commission prohibits putting new third party election or referendum advertising material on websites on polling day. The definition of advertising material for third parties is pretty broad. Here's a piece from May on likely implications:
Chief Electoral Officer Robert Peden said material posted on social media websites, including Facebook and Twitter, was covered by the rules.
"People should be aware that if they tweeted on election day to influence how somebody votes they will be breaching the Act and the commission will take action," Mr Peden told NZPA.
"For a long time, the law has allowed for campaign-free election days, and my sense is that New Zealanders like it that way and so it's not really in people's interest to do things like tweet and breach the rules."
While people are allowed to leave websites with campaign material up on election day, they may not add further material or advertise the website.
The sites would be monitored on November 26, and that people caught breaking the rules could face a $20,000 fine, Mr Peden said.
"It's the sort of thing that we will hear about if someone's doing it. We'll receive complaints."
After Twitter query, @LewStoddart, @thomasbeagle and @lyndonhood all pointed me to this piece.
The Electoral Commission advises that no campaigning of any kind is allowed on election day. This covers any statement that is likely to influence a voter as to which candidate, party or referendum option they should or shouldn’t vote for, or which influences people to abstain from voting.
I don't know whether that means tweets encouraging voting are allowed while those discouraging it aren't allowed, or whether both are disallowed. Surely an MP or activist tweeting "Go Vote" to his followers is influencing voters. But they make a big deal about encouraging abstention or encouraging particular candidates while being quiet about statements encouraging the vote.

The Press even reports [HT: @JeetSheth] that you can't make general statements about likely weather effects on that day's turnout.
Do not mention the weather and the election in the same breath on Saturday, whatever you do. No weather anywhere in the country can be reported publicly and linked to voting from 9am to 7pm on election day, the Electoral Commission says. The commission says that, under the 1993 Electoral Act, "statements such as `weather looks a bit bleak, turnout quiet at this polling place' would be prohibited as such a statement could be construed as discouraging people from voting". Section 197 of the act "does not just prohibit statements likely to influence voters as to who to vote for or not vote for". The act also prohibits any statement advising or intended or likely to influence any elector to abstain from voting, the commission said. Any loose comment about sunny spells encouraging or discouraging voters could result in a fine of up to $20,000.
So a weatherman doing the usual "reporting from in the weather" story with a polling place as backdrop would get in trouble if he commented on whether those voters were enjoying the sun or bundled up for cold. And, I suppose, anybody else noting too loudly just how bad the weather is and what a great day it is to stay home and watch movies would get in trouble too.

What if I tweeted encouraging people to vote, but everyone knew I was only doing it ironically? Something like "Go Vote and help encourage the legitimacy of the state and the moral principle that 50.01% is the voice of God". How about using clever special characters to tweet the binomial formulation of the voter's probability of decisiveness and thereby discouraged mathematicians' turnout? How about tweets pointing to George Smith's tracts against voting coupled with text saying "Don't read this, he's wrong"?

Would a blog post very neutrally specifying the mathematics of decisiveness under MMP implicitly be encouraging abstention and consequently be banned?

Is it possible that it's legal to phone your friends and offer a ride to the polling place while noting the merits of your preferred candidate, but illegal to post the same offer to a Facebook group of the same friends?

So many questions. But I'm far too cowardly to test things on Saturday. Pretty much anything I say on Saturday could be interpreted as being intended to encourage abstention, because I've a long track record of encouraging abstention.

I think I'm going to have to declare Saturday to be a Twitter and blogging holiday.

Update: Here's The Herald.


  1. "But I'm far too cowardly to test things on Saturday". Come on, Eric! I guess that you could tweet "Have you thought of the moral consequences of your vote?" or something similar that could be interpreted in a variety of ways. If it doesn't work I promise to send you emails while you are in prison.

  2. Pretty SOFT compared to Australia. Time to reform electoral law.

  3. The electoral officer was on radio NZ this afternoon, and was very clear that encouraging is ok, and discouraging is not. Participation is considered a good thing that law is trying to facilitate apparently.

  4. @Luis: Enforcement is unlikely.... Eh, we'll see what mood strikes me on Saturday. I'm mercurial.
    @V: That was awesome.
    @Swan: I heard most of that one. He did not sound like a fun guy to have at parties.

  5. And I thought we have it bad in Canada with the no-results-before-the-polls-close rule.

    If the law is applied to everything except with a wink and a nod excluding anti-abstention statements, the obvious outcome would be more voters at the booth with no clue why they're there or who to vote for.

  6. @Kelvin: As best I can tell, there's no been no prosecutions for such things. But the chilling effect's still there.

  7. There are no direct links to election coverage sections on NZHerald and TVNZ. Stuff has a little button but nothing in the news coverage.

    As someone who likes following elections around the world, I can confirm this is effing absurd. Nobody else does this.

    I don't recall the specific laws in Canada, but I believe it only restricts to canvassing near polling places. And nobody goes hardcore campaigning anyway, because it looks desperate.