The police have advised that they will not be proceeding with prosecution of individuals responsible for forgeries discovered by Council during the Māori Ward poll demand process.
"The investigating police officer reported that it is clearly evident that the forgery of names and signatures has taken place," said Richard Fisk, Council's Electoral Officer. "However despite questioning most of the people involved in organising the obtaining of the signatures, there is no evidence pointing to any one person in particular as the perpetrator; so prosecution is not an option."
Mr Fisk continued by saying that the police had noted during its investigation several people who were interviewed were very upset and angry that their legitimate and well-meaning efforts to collect names and signatures had been tainted by the illegal actions of other(s).
The situation came to light early last year when council staff noted inconsistencies throughout several of the bundles of signature sheets dropped off with Council as part of the Māori representation poll demand. On further investigation it was discovered that over 100 signatures appeared to be written by the same hand. Concerned for the validity of the poll, Council referred the matter to the police. During its investigation of the sheets in question; the police found further forgeries on more sheets received by Council.
"From the outset when the suspicion of fraud arose this has been distressing for Council and indeed it must be distressing for those people who were obtaining the signatures in good faith; and the many people who signed the demand, again in good faith," said Mayor Neil Sinclair. "The current processes around obtaining signatures for a demand for a poll are reliant on the honesty and integrity of all participants. It is unfortunate that some people involved have breached this obligation of honesty and tainted the poll demand in such a way."
Council has now referred this matter to the Department of Internal Affairs and Local Government New Zealand. Internal Affairs is responsible for administering the legislation governing local authorities, including Council elections.
In terms of the current poll demand:
- It is not possible for any Māori Ward poll demand to effect the 2013 local body elections (in October this year). Any demand would now be applicable to the 2016-and beyond elections.
- Technically the current Māori Ward poll demand remains active. There are currently 614 validated signatures.
- In order for a poll to be held, a certain number of signatures of registered electors of the South Waikato District need to be received by the Council. The outcome of any poll held will come into effect at the next election, or not until the one after, depending on when the Council had received the requisite number of signatures.. The requisite number of signatures is calculated from the number of registered voters at the previous election. Currently this number is 745, however this will likely change following the October 2013 elections later this year.
- Given the history of the current Māori Ward poll demand, Council would need to consider how it should deal with the demands it has already received. Council could choose to seek clarification from the courts at this point.
- It is possible to begin a new Māori poll demand (basically start from scratch); that would have the advantage of not being compromised by the illegalities of the original one. The key points on this are:
- Any new Māori poll demand should mean the same thing; but the words need to be slightly different in order to differentiate between the two polls.
- It would be a good idea to make any new poll date specific; ie refer specifically to the period to which it would apply and put a deadline on the poll. Suggested words could be along the lines of: this poll relates to introducing a Māori Ward or Wards for the 2016 and subsequent elections.
- The requisite number of signatures would need to be with the Council by 5pm on 28 February 2015 for the outcome of the poll to take effect for the 2016 Council elections. It is suggested that poll demands be submitted well before the due date so that if there is any shortfall in numbers, these could be made up in time for the cut-off.
- The organisers would need to be very clear on presenting that this is a second poll demand when obtaining signatures.
- People who signed the first poll are permitted to sign a second poll, once.
- To be eligible to sign a demand for a poll, a person must be a registered elector (voter) of the South Waikato District.
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