Australia Post apologises after late-arriving voting papers denied Kiwis chance to vote in local elections

New Zealand and Australia's postal services are working together to prevent delays in electoral mail getting to Kiwis across the ditch after issues surfaced during Aotearoa's most recent local election.

In a statement to Newshub, Australia Post has apologised after a number of local election voting packs intended for New Zealanders based in Australia were delayed - with some not arriving until after the October 8 election.

"We are focused on delivering for customers in a timely and efficient manner, however a backlog in one of our facilities resulted in processing delays for some international inbound mail," a spokesperson said. "We have since cleared the backlog and are again meeting delivery timeframes."

The service is now working with its global partners - including NZ Post - to "prevent this reoccurring". That includes "being pre-alerted to the arrival of these types of mail items for expedited processing once the items reach Australia". 

NZ Post told Newshub it sent the voter packs to Australia "on time for delivery", but is in discussion with Australia Post "to ensure that where appropriate and possible we will provide each other notification around mailings such as this in future to endeavour to prevent any issues in delivery".

It said it's not common practice to notify other postal administrations about election mail for local government or provincial mail, as it is with national, central or head-of-state elections. 

"Accordingly NZ Post did not send out a notification ahead of sending this mail to the wider postal community," a spokesperson said.

"Noting this, we did follow all standard pre-advice messaging of our mail dispatches, and our standard practice is to monitor shipments accordingly to confirm they have been received, particularly for key lanes such as Australia."

'Extremely frustrating'

Newshub has heard from New Zealanders across the Tasman who received their voting papers either only days before the local election - making it difficult to post them back before the cut-off date - or after the results were revealed.

Ian, a Kiwi based in Melbourne, told Newshub he received his Christchurch City Council voting papers on October 13 - five days after the October 8 election.

"There's nothing that's changed recently which would have slowed delivery," he said." [I] haven't moved in years."

"So no idea why they'd take so long to get here. Might as well be using carrier pigeons at this point - it'd be more efficient."

Nicholas Meyer, who moved to Brisbane in June, received his voting pack for the Auckland Council election on October 6.

"There would’ve been no reasonable way to get the papers back to New Zealand by the closing date without incurring a substantial international overnight courier cost," he told Newshub.

He said the delay came despite contacting the local Auckland authorities in June to make sure he would get his papers. Meyer said he was told that as long as he was on the electoral roll, he would be able to vote. 

"They also confirmed that they’d airmail my voting papers if I provided them with my address in Australia, which I did all the way back in June.

"I emailed Auckland Council again on the 21st of September to express concern that I hadn’t yet received my papers in Australia - they had arrived at my address in New Zealand - and they responded the next day confirming that they had been posted."

He called the situation "extremely frustrating", especially given he had been proactive about making sure he could vote. 

"Being able to voice your opinion and take part in the democratic process is extremely important, so being unable to do so was sad and annoying. 

"New Zealand is still very much home for me, and I wanted to cast a vote for the candidate who will make sure the place I grew up in, have loved ones living in, and am likely to live in again at some point, is run well and looked after."

Others have also raised the issue on social media. One person in Melbourne wanting to vote in the Wellington City Council elections received their papers three days prior to the election, while another in Sydney didn't get theirs until weeks after the final voting day.

NZ Post said it sent voting papers to Australia on time.
NZ Post said it sent voting papers to Australia on time. Photo credit: Getty Images.

Postal services respond

Newshub asked Electionz, the election management company that oversees many of New Zealand's local elections, what might be behind the delays. 

"This is an international post issue," Warwick Lampp, the chief returning officer said. "All voter packs for overseas electors were sent by NZ Post on Thursday 15 September."

"NZ Post will be in a better position to answer those queries, it's out of our hands."

A spokesperson for NZ Post confirmed "voter packs destined for Australia were sent from our Auckland International Mail Centre on time for delivery".

"It is difficult to determine why a customer may have experienced delays. International mail passes through multiple touchpoints, and can be prone to delays at different points of the process, many of these touchpoints are outside of our control."

It said NZ Post wasn't experiencing any delays in exporting items offshore at the time, "but it is possible that any delays could have occurred at the offshore end of the process". 

Newshub then went to Australia Post to see if it could explain the issue.

"While the vast majority of our mail arrives safely and on time, we are aware that some New Zealand Local Council election materials were delayed and we apologise," a spokesperson said.

It said a backlog at one facility "resulted in processing delays for some international inbound mail", but that backlog's since been cleared and it's meeting delivery timeframes.

"We are working with our global postal partners to prevent this reoccurring, including being pre-alerted to the arrival of these types of mail items for expedited processing once the items reach Australia."

NZ Post also confirmed it was speaking to Australia Post about preventing delays in the future.

"NZ Post and Australia Post have regular discussions around service performance both for mail both to and from each other, and this has been raised as part of these discussions to ensure that where appropriate and possible we will provide each other notification around mailings such as this in future to endeavour to prevent any issues in delivery."

The Electoral Commission's website says that voting papers for local elections can't be downloaded and can't be returned electronically. It directs anyone with questions to local councils' electoral officers, who have responsibility for the elections.

New Zealanders can vote from overseas if they are a New Zealand citizen and have been in Aotearoa within the past three years, or a New Zealand permanent resident and have been here in the past 12 months. Some people - including public servants, diplomats, and members of the NZDF and their families - can vote overseas regardless of how long they've been away. 

There were also delays with papers getting to some eligible voters based in New Zealand. The Local Government minister was among those who needed to do a special vote to participate in the local election.