Common sense was the winner on the day

You can all relax now - it looks like you'll still be able to wear your favoured political party lapel badge next election day. Because I know you were really worried about that.

Back in October, in response to a proposal in the Electoral Amendment Bill to extend the ban on election day advertising to encompass rosettes, ribbons and lapel badges worn by individuals, I issued a ringing call to arms - the terms of which shall resound throughout the ages in the hearts of all who love liberty:

You might be the kind of person who likes demonstrating your party loyalties on election day. Or, you might not particularly go in for that yourself, but also you're not that keen on laws being made that take away other peoples rights without any convincing reason for doing so - especially when those rights relate to how they can express themselves at election time. 

If you are either of these kinds of people, then it's incumbent on you to do something about it. Because as things stand, this proposal will probably just sail through in the middle of an otherwise pretty uncontroversial bill. The only thing that will get in its way is if enough people write to the Justice and Electoral Commission and tell them that they don't want it to become law.

I'm not calling on you to save democracy. I'm just saying that if you take five minutes to make an online submission, you might help stop the world becoming just that little bit greyer.

Apparently up to a dozen(!) of you did so, and in response the Justice and Electoral Committee has now reported the Bill back with a recommendation that the offending clauses be removed:

We recognise that the general prohibition on electioneering on polling day has long been part of New Zealand’s electoral system, with the aim of allowing people to vote without influence. However, we are concerned about the workability and enforceability of the proposed changes and specifically the removal of offending items. In our view issues about electioneering on election day would be more appropriately addressed in a specific review of election day rules.

The people have spoken, and our rulers have listened! The system works!! Put down your pitchforks and torches, and call off the uprising!!!

So that is good. However, at the risk of spoiling the general spirit of Christmas bonhomie, I'd take some issue with the way that Claire Trevett characterises the issue in her Herald report. She leads her story this way:

A select committee with a majority of National MPs has rejected Justice Minister Judith Collins' attempt to ban party workers wearing rosettes and streamers on election day.

It is true that the Bill is "Judith Collins'", in the sense that it came out of the Ministry of Justice, and she is the relevant Minister. But to imply that the ban was Judith Collins' own bright idea, and that the Committee's unanimous recommendation (with 5 members from National) represents some sort of rebellion against her, is misleading. If anything, the recommendation represents a U-Turn on the part of the Committee itself.

Because, the way this proposal came about is that the Electoral Commission argued for it in its report on the 2011 election (after some people complained about seeing rosettes, etc on election day, and the Commission doesn't like it when people complain about elections). The Justice and Electoral Committee then adopted this suggestion without any real assessment of its merits, and included it as one of the recommendations made to the Government following its inquiry into the 2011 election. The Ministry of Justice, of which Judith Collins is the Minister, then picked up this recommendation (as it did all those proposed by the Committee), and included it in the Electoral Amendment Bill.

So this was less Judith Collins seeking to redraw electoral law to reflect her own idea of how things should be, and more a case of a kneejerk proposal being repeated until it came in for some serious scrutiny as to its likely effects ... at which time it was recognised as probably more troublesome than the "problem" it was intended to fix.