NZ Election 2020: Judith Collins wants Jacinda Ardern to delay election until 2021 after COVID-19 outbreak

Opposition leader Judith Collins is calling for the election to be delayed until November or next year due to the COVID-19 outbreak in Auckland - and it is entirely possible. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced on Wednesday that the dissolution of Parliament has been temporarily delayed because of the outbreak - but if it's not dissolved by Monday she will have to choose a new election date. 

Parliament was due to be dissolved on Wednesday ahead of the September 19 election, but the Prime Minister confirmed it had been delayed after cases of COVID-19 were discovered in the community in Auckland. 

Auckland has been placed into alert level 3 until midnight on Friday while the rest of the country is at level 2, and the Electoral Commission is assessing the change as it continues preparations for the September election. 

"We're working through the implications of these most recent developments and what they might mean for the 2020 General Election and referendums, and we will keep the public updated," said Chief Electoral Officer Alicia Wright.

If Parliament is dissolved on Monday, the election can still be held on September 19, but the dissolution of Parliament after Monday would mean the Prime Minister would need to select another election date. 

"At this stage I don't want to get too far down the track because the immediate focus has to be on this response. There are a range of options - there is the option of sticking with the date," Ardern said on Wednesday.

"The Electoral Commission has already planned for a level 2 election so they've already got what is required to make sure that you can maintain social distancing and so on. 

"Otherwise, there is the ability to simply move it within the legal parameters that exist so at the moment any date before the 21st of November can be chosen so that flexibility already exists. It only becomes more complicated if you seek to extend it beyond that 21 November date."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has put Auckland into alert level 3 lockdown after cases of community transmission of COVID-19 were discovered.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has put Auckland into alert level 3 lockdown after cases of community transmission of COVID-19 were discovered. Photo credit: Getty

Beyond that November 21 date, Ardern could call Parliament back to vote on extending the election date to next year. The Prime Minister would need a 75 percent majority to do that. 

Collins is keen for that to happen. 

"We are calling on the Prime Minister to decide, as she can without the need to bring back Parliament to discuss it or to vote on it, to shift out the election date until a date later in November," she said on Wednesday.

"That would ensure whether or not we are actually able to vote properly and to campaign properly before that.

"If she does not feel able to do so in terms of the COVID level threat at that stage, then the alternative is for her to call back Parliament and by a super majority could have the election pushed back into next year.

"We think that is probably the better alternative. The fact that we now have a COVID-19 community outbreak that does not seem to have been distinguished from any other outbreak, tells us that we cannot necessarily be sure that there will be an ability to run a full election."

Collins said that with just over a month to go, it is "simply unsustainable to expect there to be a fair and just election" at a time when political parties are not free to campaign and when people have no certainty they can cast their vote. 

Opposition leader Judith Collins wants the election delayed due to the COVID-19 outbreak in Auckland.
Opposition leader Judith Collins wants the election delayed due to the COVID-19 outbreak in Auckland. Photo credit: Getty

"It is five, six weeks out from an election date; it is only a matter of a few weeks before an election. In a country which has one of the oldest democracies in the world, New Zealanders deserve better than to wonder whether or not they can even vote on election day."

The Chief Electoral Officer has powers under the Electoral Act to adjourn election day voting for up to seven days at a time. Before doing this, she would need to consult with the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition and other people or organisations with relevant information.

Ardern said she is mindful of making sure the campaign period is fair. 

"I would rather not be on this podium right now discussing what we are discussing and I think probably everyone appreciates that," she said. 

"In terms of dates though, one of the issues we have to keep in mind is that COVID will continue to exist in the world for the foreseeable future and so other countries have had to navigate election periods during COVID. We're now having that experience too.

"I will constantly be mindful of both making sure we act fairly but at the same time, at any point, we're having to calculate when it will be possible to do it at a time that all voters can legally participate and aren't worried about participating.

"That's a real judgement because COVID isn't going to go away in the next six months."