Govt moves to end 'coin-toss' local elections

coin toss
Some tied elections are decided by random chance. Photo credit: Getty

Local government elections that end in a tie might no longer be decided by a random chance, unless there truly is no other option.

The Government is considering changes to the law to prevent a repeat of what happened in Whakatane in October, when two candidates were tied, the winner chosen by drawing a name out of a hat. The winning candidate was sworn in as a councillor, only to be turfed out of office after a recount. 

"As far as my people were concerned, once the pōwhiri and swearing-in ceremony was done, the deal was sealed," unsuccessful candidate Hinerangi Goodman told the Rotorua Daily Post in November.

"To take it away again goes against tikanga and it also tramples on the mana and the mauri people had placed in me to be their representative."

The Whakatāne District Council took its concerns to Minister of Local Government Nanaia Mahuta, who says changes may be in place before the 2022 elections.

 "In my view the swearing in of a newly elected member should, as far as possible, be the final step in the election process, and it should occur only after any disputes about electoral outcomes have been resolved," Mahuta said.

"My proposal is that if there is a tied result, there should automatically be a recount. This is what occurs for parliamentary elections. This change would mean that any coin-toss would only take place if the  district court confirmed that the result is a tie.

"I will also consider whether an automatic recount should be triggered for elections where the winning margin is very small."

RNZ reported Goodman was the first Māori woman to represent the Murupara-Galatea Ward in the predominantly Māori town, and there was anger because the eventual winner -  Alison Silcock - had previously voted against having Māori seats on the council.

The Justice Select Committee is looking at the past couple of elections, national and local, to see what changes could be made to improve New Zealand's democracy.

"The proposed changes will provide everyone with a lot more certainty and avoid the distress when a candidate sworn in as an elected member finds their position revoked through no fault of their own," said Mahuta.