Government pretty much decided on postal smacking referendum months ago
note:this post has been updated
The Chief Electoral Officer (CEO), Robert Peden, has advised the Government that he would prefer that any Citizens Initiated Referenda be conducted by postal vote in 2009 in accordance with the Referenda (Postal Voting) Act 2000. He wasn't given an opportunity by the Government to recommend a postal vote this year.
The Government announced in parliament today that the advice is to be accepted. What it didn't say was that the advice was given to the Government on 17 March - more than three months ago - requesting that a Cabinet decision be made by mid April, two months before the petition was delivered to Parliament. I got the briefing paper emailed to me this afternoon, but due to work commitments, was unable to read it until tonight. But I found it online here [DOC].
The primary reason that the CEO recommended a postal ballot was because he didn't want to do an electoral referendum because he thought it would be too much hard work.
He didn't want the additional administrative challenges of an electoral referendum on top of organising an election, including staff training, and he hadn't got around to arranging the testing the enhancements of the Election Management System. And given that the CEO is not funded to undertake citizen initiated referenda, he hadn't applied for additional funding should the petitions be successful, nor did he appear to want to. It is noted that it cost up to $2.2m more to fund a referenda by postal vote.
Another reason for recommending a postal ballot was because of delays in the two 1999 CIR - delays in part caused by not having distinct colours for each referendum voting paper, meaning the sorting was a lot of hard work. In other words, they didn't get their act together last time and don't want to repeat the process in case they screw up again.
All this can be fixed - its just that the Chief Electoral Officer doesn't want to fix it because doing a postal ballot is a lot easier - it will also mean a reduced response rate,so an electoral referendum could be said to be more democratic.
Yet there is absolutely no reason apart from political pettiness why a postal ballot or an electoral referendum cannot be conducted this year. In fact Parliament could, if it so chooses, vote on a resolution requiring the voting period for a postal ballot to close on Election Day.
If John Key really prefers an election day referendum, lets see his party put forward the resolution if his words are not hollow politicking.
UPDATE Apparently the Chief Electoral Office has been discussing what to do regarding the referendums since late last year and the idea of a 2009 postal referendum appears to have been floated at that time. If so, the briefing is the formal advice of these initial discussions and it means that Larry Baldock and Cheryl Savill, if they were hoping to have referenda at the election, were effectively scuttled before they even got their petition presented the first time - as the Government appears to have informally decided back in 2007 that it did not want an electoral referendum - or a 2008 postal referendum - way back then.If so, the decision was based on politics, not on pragmatism or democracy. In other words, it was rigged.