Labour's David Parker has criticised the length of time needed to count the special votes following the general election and has suggested a fix he believes would not only speed up processing, but save taxpayers money and improve participation in democracy.
He has called on the incoming Government to make the changes, saying "there's no politics in this".
"I think everyone's aligned in wanting fair, robust and fast election outcomes," Parker told Newshub.
There was nearly three weeks between election day on October 14 and the Electoral Commission unveiling the final results on November 3.
Unlike the preliminary results shared on election night, the official results include special votes, made up of votes from people overseas, those not voting in their electorates, and people who enrolled on or close to election day.
The Electoral Commission has several responsibilities it must undertake between election day and revealing the official results, including checking that every special voter is enrolled and eligible to vote.
Parker said the large number of special votes – 603,257 in 2023 or 20.9 percent of the total votes – can have a "material effect" on the election outcome and should therefore be counted as quickly as possible so coalition negotiations can begin.
The three-week wait between election night and the final results was too long, he said.
"I don't think the coalition negotiation part of it is necessarily too long, there are some complexities to work through there and that's how democracy works. I am not criticising that," Parker said.
"I just want to save the first three weeks of the process because if you had very few special votes on the night parties could be confident that the special votes weren't going to materially change the number of seats allocated and accordingly, coalition negotiations could get going the next day rather than waiting for three weeks and it would all be over by now."
The Labour MP said one way to reduce the time needed is to make sure the Electoral Roll is as up to date as it can be, cutting down on the need for people to enrol or update their details on or close to the day.
"I reckon that New Zealand should update the Electoral Roll based on the IRD database rather than having a separate Electoral Roll that sort of doesn't talk to other databases," he told Newshub.
"A lot of other countries in Scandinavia and Canada base their Electoral Roll on their IRD database or some other national database and it would save a hell of a lot of money, get a more accurate roll, entitle people to vote and have a quicker conclusion after the election."
Parker, the former Revenue Minister who oversaw the Inland Revenue Department (IRD), said the main benefit of using the IRD database is that virtually every voter has an IRD number.
"All students do, obviously everyone in work, whether they're self employed or waged or salaried, every beneficiary, everyone has an IRD number," he said.
"The Inland Revenue Department system is very, very sophisticated, [and] was recently upgraded. That upgrade was completed in the last few years and the capacity to use the data that they now hold for export into other databases like the Electoral Roll I'm sure could be achieved."
He said the IRD database includes the date of birth for most people.
"When people clock over the age of 18, for example, and become eligible to vote, they could be added to the Electoral Roll quite simply."
The Electoral Commission – or even "IRD on contract to the Electoral Commission" - would still be needed for some maintenance of the roll, he said, including for example handling people wanting to change between the general and Māori roll or removing people who are ineligible to vote due to being in prison.
"Those things would still have to be done. I'm sure they could be done a lot more efficiently than they are currently," he said.
Removing people from the roll who were in the IRD database but ineligible to vote – such as non-resident taxpayers – would be a "much smaller task", Parker said.
Taking this approach wouldn't just help with speeding up the processing of special votes, Parker said, but also save money by having a more efficient system and help improve participation in the electoral system by making it easier for someone to be on the roll.
"Everyone who's of the age to vote should get the opportunity to vote in a democracy. Participation is incredibly important.
"We also know that the first chance that people have to vote, if they cast their vote, they get into the habit of voting at elections, which is also a good thing. I think it's in everyone's interest to have a full roll. Democracy relies upon it. We should just do it efficiently."
He said one of the challenges may be how heavily regulated the Electoral Commission is "as to how it is they have to maintain a separate roll".
"Perhaps the legislation needs to change, to free them up and enable this sort of an outcome as well as I think we should actually consider whether the job should sit with IRD rather than the Electoral Commission."
The Labour Government in 2019 introduced legislation which led to same-day enrolment and extended the amount of time the Electoral Commission had to return the writ. This is done soon after the final election results are revealed, barring any necessary recounts.
Asked if he had proposed his idea at the time when he was Cabinet minister in that Government, Parker said he hadn't at the time, but he has spoken to Labour caucus members about it.
Parker said the incoming National Government should consider the changes, but didn't want to see anything happen that would deprive people from being able to vote.
"There's no politics in this. I think everyone's aligned in wanting fair, robust and fast election outcomes and coalition negotiations under the MMP system are always going to be necessary.
"But you shouldn't have to wait three weeks before they start. At the moment there are so many special votes cast that that's the outcome of the current system."
He said the three-year electoral system doesn't provide much time for governments to do "complex things", so they should be able to get on with it quickly.
"Wasting a month of that... first three-year period, that eats into the time that a government needs to do its business."
National leader and incoming Prime Minister Christopher Luxon has also criticised the time it took to count the specials.
"After every election, we take a deep review, all parties get to input into it, and I think that's an important process," he said on the day the final results were shared.
"I think there are some genuinely big questions that we could ask in this review as well."
On election night, the preliminary results showed National and ACT could form a Government together. However, as National often loses a seat or two when the special votes are accounted for, it was speculated that New Zealand First would be needed to form a Government. This was proven right once the final election results were revealed.
The Chief Electoral Officer Karl Le Quesne afterwards told AM that the Commission would take a "really good look" at the process.
"We understand the frustration with how long it takes, so we'll be looking in our report back to Parliament around what might be able to be done to quicken that up," Le Quesne said.
"We've had a look at what they do in Australia and that's quite interesting because they are often updating on the processing as well.
"They have a similar process where the votes are counted towards the end of their period and they start releasing them progressively, but we don't think the Electoral Act enables us to do that at the moment."