Revealed: 2020 Election spending tripled compared to 2017 election

Official documents from the Electoral Commission have revealed the 2020 general election cost the taxpayer triple the amount of the previous election. 

In 2014 the Electoral Commission spent $39 million. In 2017 it bumped up to $49 million and last year it tripled, amounting to $160 million. 

The commission's base budget for last year's election was approximately $99.4 million - but this ballooned due to a slew of costs.

Those costs included two referendums, COVID-19 measures and a last minute change of the election date.  

The COVID-19 pandemic meant the election had to be redesigned with public health measures in mind - for example, the use of personal protective equipment. It was this redesign which cost the electoral commission the most - a whopping $28.7 million.

Other public health measures were

  • Redesign the layout of voting venues to allow social distancing and booking larger venues
  • Advanced voting kicked off two days earlier while encouraging early voting to reduce queues
  • Adding more advance voting locations 
  • Additional staff to manage queues and voter flow 
  •  PPE for staff and sanitiser on the way in and out 
  • Single use pens 
  • Processes for Kiwis in MIQ to vote safely

The Cannabis and End of Life Choice referendums were the second most expensive additional cost to the commission totaling $18.4 million. 

Of that, $2.6 million was spent on advertising and marketing.

The number of advanced voting booths ballooned from 489 in 2017 to 1500 in 2020, as the priority for the commission was to keep queuing to a minimum.

Last year's election saw the largest voter turnout in an election since 1999, the commission believes the increase in advanced voting places allowed people to vote and vote in person. 

Chief electoral officer Alicia Wright categorised this milestone for the commission as "a huge accomplishment".

Shuffling the election date was the third most expensive change. The decision to move the election from August to October followed the August COVID-19 outbreak, which sent Auckland into COVID-19 alert level 2.

The commission spent $13.5 million on rescheduling venues and the reprint of marketing materials. 

Wright told Newshub there was a lot of work that needed to be done.

"The commission had put the election date on many many things like your easy vote card. All of those things needed to be redone."

Wright said she is comfortable with the money the commission spent on the election. 

"New Zealanders have really high standards and expectations and we were able to deliver" 

Wright couldn't confirm whether this has been the most expensive election in its history but says the challenges this election has thrown at the commission have been complex. 

"There have been a lot of one off events in this election that have made it one of the most complex elections I think New Zealand has ever had"

She hopes another election won't have the added element of COVID-19.

 "We won't have COVID-19 and the change of date, all going well."  

When Wright was asked to reflect on the 2020 General Election she told Newshub "The general election for 2020 was historical, complex and voters turned out to feel safe".