Electoral Commission apologises for releasing personal voter details

By Talisa Kupenga

The Electoral Commission has apologised for releasing personal voter details in official documents. The information was mistakenly released following a request to the Commission under the Official Information Act, which sought Māori voter complaints and enquires about their experience at the polling booth.

Tipene (name changed for privacy purposes) says he was shocked when he received scanned documents with redacted names and emails still legible and in some cases not redacted at all. The requestor has deleted the original documents at the request of the Electoral Commission which apologised for its mistake and provided a correctly redacted hard copy.

Tipene hopes a mistake like this never happens again.

"They were quite careless with the personal information of private individuals. From a Māori perspective, that information is tapu [sacred], it should be treated with the utmost care and respect and I feel in this case it wasn't."

More than 40 complaints and inquiries were received by the Electoral Commission which it says were taken seriously and escalated where appropriate. A scanning error was the reason for the poor redactions in the first document.

“The election has been and gone so the next opportunity these people will have a chance to have to vote will be in three years' time so where is the justice in that? I just think this is a further blow to the relationship between the commission and Māori. In terms of the initial complaints that came through, Māori were already having a hard time dealing with polling booths."

The most common complaint was Māori roll voters being supplied incorrect ballot papers which means only their party vote was counted. Other complaints claim staff were culturally insensitive and unaware of the Māori Roll and the Māori Electorates.

"Māori voters felt that they were being belittled because they were on the Māori roll. Māori voters also felt that the staff working at the polling booths were not respectful of tikanga, were not respectful of the correct pronunciation of Māori names. Also, there was a number of requests by Māori voters in the papers that there be people who either speak Māori or who understand Māori at each of the polling booths."

This election 2.6million people voted. Māori voter turnout was the highest since 2005 and the advance voting option was most popular with voters on the Māori roll.

Chief Electoral Officer Alicia Wright says the Commission has reviewed its administration practices to ensure a privacy breach like this one does not reoccur. The commission says it aims to increase i reo Māori speaking staff numbers, to work on what went well and fix any problems to provide a better service at the next election. 

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