Vote counting at an election (file image)
Scrutineers are involved in every step of vote counting in New Zealand. Image by Dave Hunt/AAP PHOTOS

NZ vote tampering claim doesn’t hold up to scrutiny

Nik Dirga September 19, 2023

Scrutineers are not allowed to view the counting of special votes and postal votes at the New Zealand election.


False. New Zealand electoral laws allow for the presence of scrutineers throughout vote counting.

Social media posts claim special votes in New Zealand’s general election risk being tampered with because scrutineers are not allowed to watch them being counted.

This is false. The New Zealand Electoral Commission and an expert told AAP FactCheck scrutineers are allowed throughout the entire vote-counting process.

This includes special votes – ballot papers predominantly from postal votes, overseas voters, prisoners and other people who can’t vote in their electorate on polling day.

A Facebook post (archived here) claims “special votes, and mail in votes and advance votes and takeaway votes are at a high risk of being tampered with … they also are not able to be overseen by a public scrutineer”.

The same Facebook user makes a similar claim in another post.

A screenshot of the Facebook post.
 The post is spreading misinformation about the election process. 

The New Zealand Electoral Commission told AAP FactCheck scrutineers are allowed throughout the vote-counting process, including the counting of special votes.

The commission’s website states scrutineers can “be present for the official count, the checking of special declaration votes and for any recount”.

Scrutineers, who can be appointed by candidates and parties, observe throughout the electoral process.

Special votes are those cast by people outside their electorate, those who have enrolled or updated their enrolment after the governor-general issues the formal writ, or votes from overseas. They all count exactly the same as ordinary votes.

Scrutineers watch over as officials count votes (file image)
 There are many sets of eyes over the vote-counting process. 

New Zealand’s general election on October 14 will have two preliminary count results – one for advance votes and one for those cast on election day – followed by an official count including special votes.

Chief Electoral Officer Karl Le Quesne told AAP FactCheck all counts were done in the presence of scrutineers.

“There are many eyes on the process including Electoral Commission staff employed from the local community,” he said.

“Candidates and parties can appoint scrutineers to observe both the preliminary count on election day and the official count.”

Mr Le Quesne said Justices of the Peace also act as observers.

Scrutineers watch over election officials (file image)
 Scrutineers are also involved in any recounts. 

Andrew Geddis, a law professor at the University of Otago, told AAP FactCheck New Zealand’s vote-counting procedures were laid out in Section 178 of the Electoral Act 1993.

“The official count of all votes – ordinary, advance and special (which includes overseas votes and phone in votes) – must take place ‘in the presence of any of the scrutineers appointed’ (by individual candidates or parties),” Prof Geddis said in an email.

As an example of scrutineers being used for special votes, losing Mana Party candidate Hone Harawira requested a recount of disqualified special votes in his electorate in 2014.

Scrutineers were used in the process, the judge in that case noted (section 38).

The Verdict

The claim public scrutineers cannot view the counting of special votes in New Zealand elections is false.

The Electoral Commission and an expert told AAP FactCheck scrutineers are allowed throughout the entire process including on election day, when special votes are collected and in any recounts.

False – The claim is inaccurate.

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