Million-dollar mistake sees referendum brochures destroyed

Both referendums are being held alongside the general election in September. Photo credit: Getty

A major election blunder has been avoided, following a printing error in millions of referendum brochures.

An answer to a referendum question about the End of Life Choice Act was printed in bold, in some brochures printed in Auckland. They were due to be sent out with enrolment update packs this week.

"Having one of the answers to the referendum question highlighted bold could unduly influence a voter one way or the other," said Ministry of Justice Secretary Andrew Kibblewhite.

Because it was impossible to know which copies were affected, all 2.5 million enrolment update packs and 3 million referendum brochures had to be destroyed - including some relating to the referendum on legalising recreational cannabis use.

Both referendums are being held alongside the general election in September.

Despite this, Kibblewhite says the timeline has not been impacted badly.

"That will take probably in the order of a week or longer for that mailout to be completed - that will be the full extent of it. Overall we've managed to keep the impact down to the bare minimum."

The bungle has cost about $1 million, and an external review is underway to find out how it happened.

"We came across the error - well, the Electoral Commission did - they notified us and we immediately set about rectifying it," said Kibblewhite. "We've been working pretty intensely to destroy all of the contaminated stock." 

It's not clear which answer - in favour or against legalising assisted dying - was printed in bold. Kibblewhite said that won't be made known until after the election, to ensure voters aren't influenced. 

"It will be quite distracting for voters to see one of the answers to one of the questions was bolded," said Kibblewhite.

"I can assure everyone that the ministry and our suppliers have implemented enhanced quality assurance and security measures since the production issue was found to prevent any further issues."

Voting packs will be sent out this month.