Dunedin: On the 2001 Local Electoral Act, and more [Complaint]

Received from Lee Vandervis.
Thursday, 19 December 2013 11:56 a.m.

{Copy of this complaint has been forwarded to Wilma McCorkindale (Fairfax News) and Debbie Porteous (ODT) who met Lee Vandervis this morning. The layout of the forwarded email has been slightly modified due to limitations of the WordPress template. Some personal contact details and email addresses have been removed or deactivated. -Eds}

—— Forwarded Message

——– Original Message ——–
Subject: Formal Complaint to the Electoral Commission, and Hon Chris Tremain – Minister for Local Government
Date: Tue, 10 Dec 2013 08:32:24 +1300
From: Lee Vandervis
To: feedback @ elections.org.nz, c.tremain @ ministers.govt.nz

Formal Complaint to the Electoral Commission 10/12/2013

Dear Electoral Commission and Hon Chris Tremain – Minister for Local Government.

I wish to make a formal complaint regarding a breach of section 197 of the NZ Electoral Act 1993 [Reprint as at 5 August 2013];

197 Interfering with or influencing voters

● (1) Every person commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $20,000 who at an election—

g) at any time on polling day before the close of the poll exhibits in or in view of any public place, or publishes, or distributes, or broadcasts,—

● (i) any statement advising or intended or likely to influence any elector as to the candidate or party for whom the elector should or should not vote;

Specifically under the Local Electoral Act 2001

Part 7 http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/2001/0035/latest/link.aspx?id=DLM94784
Offences http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/2001/0035/latest/link.aspx?id=DLM94784

122 Interfering with or influencing voters

● (1) Every person commits an offence, and is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $5,000, who—

(a) interferes in any way with any person who is about to vote with the intention of influencing or advising that person as to how he or she should vote:

(b) prints, publishes, distributes, or delivers to any person (using any medium or means of communication) a document, paper, notice, or message, being or purporting to be in imitation of any voting document to be used at the election or poll that,—

—(i) in the case of an election, includes the name of a candidate or candidates, together with any direction or indication as to the candidate or candidates for whom any person should vote:

—(ii) in the case of a poll, includes a statement or indication as to how any person should vote:

—(iii) in any way contains or suggests any such direction or indication or other matter likely to influence how any person votes:

(c) prints, publishes, or distributes any instruction on the method of marking the voting document that differs in any material way from the instructions required by this Act or any regulations made under this Act to accompany the voting document.


On the Saturday 21st of September 2013, the day on which the majority of Dunedin voters would have received their voting papers in the mail, the weekend edition of the Otago Daily Times printed an unprecedented 2 page “LOCAL BODY ELECTIONS HOW THEY RATED Opinion: Council reporter Chris Morris’ ratings of the council’s best and worst performers” which I allege was clearly designed to influence or advise voters as to how they should vote.
This ODT ratings of Councillors was authoritatively described in the introduction as being from “reporter Chris Morris [who] has occupied a unique vantage point on the press bench, watching more of the debate unfold than any other member of the public”. [It fails to note that much Councillor work is in non-public meetings and in individual contacts which an ODT reporter has no knowledge of.]
In this 2 page publication, the Mayor and each Councillor was named and photo shown followed by a column of text, in a format similar to the electoral information booklet accompanying voting papers, – additionally scored/10, and ‘Standing again’ noted. The text ‘opinion’ that accompanied each Councillor’s numerical/10 rating was heavily emotive, biased, and largely devoid of fact in many instances.
Further, I believe that the effect of this publication had a significant effect on voting to the extent that no Councillor that received a Chris Morris rating of less than 6/10 was re-elected. This despite two sitting Councillors of long experience, Cr Paul Hudson and Cr. Teresa Stevenson, looking likely to be re-elected but severely disadvantaged in this publication with damning comment and scores of 4/10 and 3/10 respectively. Cr. Hudson’s lost seat in particular was a surprise as he had a strong advertising campaign as well as a long uninterrupted Councillor history. Cr. Stevenson’s campaign was minimal, but always had been in the past and had still been enough to ensure uninterrupted re-election for many prior terms.
Although re-elected myself with a comfortable first interation selection, I believe that the ODT ratings publication severely impacted both my Mayoral and my Councillor vote, as a result of a slew of slanderous personal attacks in my single ratings column, contrasting strongly with Mayor Cull’s six columns of mostly misleading praise.

Mayor Cull’s praise included claiming he had delivered on promises of spending cuts, efficiencies, and greater transparency, when Mayor Cull’s Council had in fact increased debt by a record $176 million, failed to reduce bloated staff costs, and organised a secret caucus Liaison Committee which illegally prevented Councillors outside the Committee from attending. Mayor Cull also falsely claimed in his electoral pamphlet that his Council had saved ratepayers $100 million in interest costs by reducing the Stadium debt term from 40 years, when in fact it was Mayor Cull’s Council that had increased the term to 40 years in the first place.
The slanderous adjectives used by Chris Morris in my column included; “hogging…headlines [ironically this same reporter was responsible for most headlines], accused of getting facts wrong, grandstanding or a bullying tone, irate outburst, when angry as he often appears, his boiling shade of red is a sight to behold. Can sit like a storm cloud in council meetings, seemingly ready to erupt, walk out, or both.”…

The clear intention to influence and advise voters in this unprecedented 2 page slander of some candidates, and whitewash of others, could not be more plain.
The devastating result on the election outcome was also marked, as the ODT is the only local Dunedin daily newspaper, and the other local weekly and local TV channel are all owned by the same Allied Press Ltd.
With this ‘Council reporter ratings publication’, the ODT did not just ‘interfere in any way with any person who is about to vote’, the publication interfered in many ways with thousands of people who were about to vote, significantly altering the voting outcomes of the election. This on top of more subtle ODT bias in headlines, omissions, and comment regarding Council issues in the year leading up to the election.

I highlighted two such recent examples in my letter to the Editor of 22nd/9/2013 as follows;

From: Lee Vandervis
Date: Sun, 22 Sep 2013 12:01:03 +1200
To: EditorODT, Nicholas George S Smith [Allied Press], Julian Smith [Allied Press]
Cc: Chris Morris [ODT]
Conversation: A reporter’s ranting ratings! – Letter to the Editor
Subject: A reporter’s ranting ratings! – Letter to the Editor

Letter to the Editor.

A reporter’s ranting ratings! – on voting-papers-weekend!

Dear Editor,

With two pages of a reporter’s ranting ratings! on Councillors, the ODT has emotively screwed with voter preferences just as their voting papers arrive.
For the Mayoralty the ODT has again backed a TV-show-pony instead of a work-horse.

Where was Saturday’s headline ‘Cull falsely claims saving ratepayers $100+ million’ when the ODT knows he tried costing us that $100+ million in 2012 to disguise a double digit rates-rise?*
Where is the headline ‘Imaginative and informative election posters from Vandervis’? [photo here – see attached].

You have helped buy a Stadium that we can not pay for, neither capital nor operational, and failed the only candidate that told you so and still might have been able to pay for both.
You are sending our new CEO saviour in search of a saner situation.
You have, in this most important ODT issue of the triennium, taken the Dunedin disease of savaging style over substance to new debilitating depths.
You have permanently compromised any perceived impartiality of your primary DCC reporter, and warned off any decent future DCC candidates.

Winchell’s fate awaits you.

Cr. Clydesdale Vandervis

[“Walter Winchell – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Winchell http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Winchell
You know what Winchell was doing at the end? Typing out mimeographed sheets with his column, handing them out on the corner. That’s how sad he got.”]

● “Mayor Dave Cull said he was “vehemently opposed” to repaying the debt over 40 years, because of the interest it would add to the bill, but would support it in the meantime to keep rates down.” [ODT 26 Jan 2012]


Feedback following the Councillor ratings publication was so severe from many different people that I decided to cancel all further advertising with the ODT on 29th Sept., 10 days before the close of voting as below.

From: Lee Vandervis
Date: Sun, 29 Sep 2013 23:07:22 +1300
To: Esther Lamb [Allied Press]
Cc: Nicholas George S Smith [Allied Press], Julian Smith [Allied Press]
Conversation: Lee Vandervis
Subject: Re: Lee Vandervis

Hi Esther,

Thank you for looking after me personally, but your Editors and Morris have undone any good there might have been in our ODT advertising by the obscene Sept 21st 2 pages of ‘Councillor ratings’ in which I have been slandered and Mayor Cull has been rolled in glitter.
Please cancel any further ads and send me a final account.

Kind regards,

4 Links to the ODT 21/9/2013 Councillor rating publication appear below;

I ask that you investigate this complaint, and if you discover that section 122 of the Local Electoral Act or other section has in fact been breached, that you move to appropriately censure the ODT in such a way as to publicly highlight the breach, and especially to prevent this or any other newspaper doing this to Candidates in future elections. The ODT has responded to comment on its Ratings of Candidates publication by saying that it will consider including Regional Council and Hospital Board Candidates in a similar Ratings publication for future elections.
The already too powerful influence of Allied Press’ monopoly print and TV media in Dunedin has become so extreme with this ODT Councillor Ratings paper coinciding with delivery of voting papers, that the outcome of the electoral process effectively rides on the shirt-tails of ODT published opinion.

Looking forward to your response,

Kind regards,
Cr. Lee Vandervis

—— End of Forwarded Message


Posted by Elizabeth Kerr


Filed under DCC, Democracy, Media, New Zealand, People, Politics

21 responses to “Dunedin: On the 2001 Local Electoral Act, and more [Complaint]

  1. brownestudy

    Good luck. There’ll be a right flap in the Minister’s Beehive office. Hon C Tremain has procrastined over past immigration issues. He gives the impression of not liking a fuss.

    {Thanks for the reading material. Your postal address is unknown therefore the courtesy cannot be returned. Email it through. -Eds}

    • Earlier today we learned that the matter has been referred back to Dunedin’s Local Government officer Pam Jordan; and consequently, Cr Vandervis has been asked to take his complaint to Dunedin Police.

  2. Russell Garbutt

    Well that should ensure the end of the matter then.

    Just look at today’s news on how the NZ Police have failed to act or decided that there wasn’t enough evidence to proceed whereas they have been shown by subsequent findings to have “failed” in their obligations and duties.

  3. Hype O'Thermia

    Wait and see if this indicates anything or if it turns out to be one of those “pass the parcel” exercises: “Sorry sir, you’ll need to see Weights and Measures
    >>15 copies witnessed by a JP, to the Commission on Sustainable Duckshoving
    >>>Invermay, but you won’t get a response from them in a hurry, they’re being destructured but they’ll get back to you ASAP
    >>>>Customs, ask for the corned-beef sniffing dog.

    • Hype O'Thermia

      Call me Mystic Meg and cross me palm with silver, dearie.

      • I’d be hacked off majorly if ODT was steeply taking my advertising dollars on the one hand while their journalist was typing ‘-ve lightweight corrosive opinion’ to increase circulation and ‘market share’ in Greater Dunedin, on the other. Seems like a crime, morally.
        That aside, I suspect Cr Vandervis has taken legal advice before making his complaint – to determine some grounds under the Act. It will be interesting to see the forthcoming interpretations at law and if there are legs.

  4. Anonymous

    Can’t wait to read the Oddity’s position on this. Anyone want to guess on what page and number of centimetres it will take up? I’m thinking page 33 and 5. Meanwhile in Allied Press la-la-land a series of positive stories on why the Dunedin City ratepayer should buy up the Highlanders will likely appear prominently on the front page with a two page spread… hey! Something familiar about those two page spreads…?

  5. Received from Lee Vandervis.
    Thursday, 19 December 2013 7:05 p.m.

    —— Forwarded Message

    From: Lee Vandervis
    Date: Thu, 19 Dec 2013 19:02:06 +1300
    To: Mayor Cull, Kate Wilson, Richard Thomson, Chris Staynes, John Bezett, Lee Vandervis, Hilary Calvert, Doug Hall, Andrew Whiley, Aaron Hawkins, Mike Lord, David Benson-Pope, Neville Peat, Andrew Noone, Jinty MacTavish
    Cc: Sandy Graham [DCC]
    Conversation: Final version of Formal Complaint to the Dunedin Police, as well as the Electoral Commission, and Hon Chris Tremain – Minister for Local Government
    Subject: Final version of Formal Complaint to the Dunedin Police, as well as the Electoral Commission, and Hon Chris Tremain – Minister for Local Government

    Dear Elected Representatives,

    I have been trying for some weeks to make a formal complaint about an alleged breach of the Electoral Act 2001 by Allied Press.
    The complaint below has been passed like a hot potato from the Electoral Commission and the Minister of Local Government, to the Department of Internal Affairs, back to Dunedin’s Local Government officer Pam Jordan and today on to the Police, as the alleged complaint, if proven, is a criminal offence under the 2001 Local Electoral Act.
    I tried to email Police with details yesterday, but they said I would have to come in to the Dunedin Central Police Station to make a complaint under the Local Electoral Act.
    I went to the Police station today only to be told that they could not accept my complaint or evidence because an appropriate person was not available, but that I would be contacted later today. This afternoon I had a message from a CIB person on my ansafone who said that they could not see me to accept my complaint today, but would be in touch tomorrow.
    Media have spoken to me as I left the Police Station today, and I have been interviewed by National radio just now.
    The hot potato continues to roll.

    Assuming that the outcome of this complaint detailed below is of interest, I will let you know of any decisions as they arise.
    Please let me know if you do not wish to get such further email from me.

    Kind regards,


    Dear Police,

    On the advice of Ms. Semmens from the Department of Internal Affairs as quoted below, I wish to refer to you a complaint under the 2001 Local Electoral Act regarding a publication that appeared in the 21/9/13 Otago Daily Times, details of which appear further below.
    I believe that an investigation into the alleged criminal action of interfering with or influencing voters is appropriate, and that the Police should decide promptly whether or not to prosecute the ODT, or relevant reporter, editor, or ODT ownership.

    With this complaint, I submit an original copy of the 2 page ODT voter influencing article publication with the entire newspaper to show how the ratings article is highlighted on the top of the front page.
    I also enclose the original ODT letter to the editor of 7/10/13 from an Anne Coup confirming that she found the Councillor rating report card “very useful”, and “How else would voters know…”
    I have already email forwarded the original Electoral Commission complaint below to ODT relevant reporter, editor, and ODT owners.
    I have rung the Dunedin Central Police station requesting an email address, but been told by the Sargeant that I should present personally to the Police Station, which I will do.

    Kind regards,
    Cr. Lee Vandervis


    From: Kirstin Semmens [Department of Internal Affairs]
    Date: Wed, 11 Dec 2013 22:42:29 +0000
    To: Lee Vandervis
    Subject: FW: Formal Complaint to the Electoral Commission, and Hon Chris Tremain – Minister for Local Government

    Good morning Mr Vandervis

    Thank you for your email of 10 December 2013 which has been passed to me for response.

    You have requested an investigation into your complaint regarding the Otago Daily Times article ranking elected members of the Dunedin City Council. I must point out that neither the Department of Internal Affairs nor any other central government agency has responsibility for the conduct of particular local authority elections. The Electoral Officer is solely responsible for his or her election and I would therefore, encourage you to contact the Dunedin City Council’s electoral officer Pam Jordan with your concerns.

    The prescribed legal processes are for any alleged offence against the Local Electoral Act 2001 (the Act) to be referred to the Police (under section 138 of the Act) and any complaint about the conduct of an election to be the subject of a petition for inquiry to the District Court under section 93 of the Act. This is the prescribed and appropriate channel for any investigation to be carried out.

    You may also want to consider making a submission to the the Justice and Electoral Select Committee’s inquiry into the local authority elections. Further information on this can be found at http://www.parliament.nz/en-nz/pb/sc/details/justice-electoral/00DBHOH_BBSC_SCJE_1/business-before-the-justice-and-electoral-committee.

    Kind regards

    Kirstin Semmens

    Kirstin Semmens | Policy Analyst | Sector Governance and Performance | Policy Group
    The Department of Internal Affairs Te Tari Taiwhenua
    46 Waring Taylor St | PO Box 805, Wellington 6140, New Zealand | http://www.dia.govt.nz

    —— End of Forwarded Message


    Lee Vandervis’ email continues with his original complaint as published at the top of this thread. -Eds

    • ### radionz.co.nz Updated at 8:46 pm on 20 December 2013
      RNZ News
      Councillor goes to police over article
      A Dunedin City Councillor is complaining to police about an Otago Daily Times article which he says lost him votes in this year’s council elections. Lee Vandervis, who was re-elected, said the article is slanderous and breaches the Local Electoral Act. The article by Otago Daily Times reporter Chris Morris rated the performance of the city councillors out of 10. He gave Mr Vandervis a grade of six, saying the councillor grandstands and becomes red and angry during council meetings. The article came out on 21 September, coinciding with the first mailing of election ballots.
      Mr Vandervis said it breaches the Local Electoral Act, which prohibits interference with anyone who is about to vote.
      The Otago Daily Times would not comment, except to say it will let justice take its course.
      The Dunedin Electoral Officer said she is waiting for legal advice.
      RNZ Link


      ### radionz.co.nz Friday 20 December 2013
      RNZ National
      Morning Report with Geoff Robinson & Simon Mercep

      08:39 Dunedin councillor takes newspaper to police
      A Dunedin city councillor is filing a criminal complaint against the Otago Daily Times, over an article which he says cost him votes in this year’s local elections. (3:16)
      Audio | Download: OggMP3

  6. I sympathize with Lee Vandervis but I am not sure that the rules against activities on polling day apply during the period of postal voting.
    In any case, the police have have a record of taking no action on complaints of breaches of Electoral law for a great many years (mainly to the benefit of the Labour Party).
    Isn’t the ODT free to express its opinion, just like anybody else. Perhaps Lee should heed Mark Twain’s advice: “Never pick a fight with a man who buys ink by the barrel.”

    • Hype O'Thermia

      Alistair, to your “I am not sure that the rules against activities on polling day apply during the period of postal voting” I must admit “me too”. Perhaps the rules pertaining to candidates’ billboards are a guide – when do they have to be taken down?

  7. If nothing else, Lee Vandervis has drawn a line in the sand. He is not doing this lightly, but from an injured party’s position. That the laws pertaining to the publishing of items or articles designed (either intentionally or inadvertently ) to influence voters is testament to the seriousness with which these actions are viewed. If the ODT is found to have breached these statutes as claimed, then the full force of the law must be prosecuted. If not, then it makes a mockery of the whole electoral process. We must wait to see if Cr Vendervis gets satisfaction and justice. If not then the ODT will feel free to do whatever it wishes in order to enhance the prospects of the candidates of its (the principals of the ODT) choice. Now that goes right to the roots of democracy and destroys it, together with its credibility. It is staggering that our Mayor Dave Cull has not picked up the torch on this one, if for no other reason than it would be the right thing to do.

  8. Mike

    I’ve always found that this portion of the Electoral Act hasn’t caught up with the reality of postal votes, as others point out the same is particularly true of election signs – mind you, this year the bylaws were pretty much honoured in the breach – the bylaw against multiple signs on one premise were broken by GD in almost every case (they put up dual signs) and by Hilary especially downtown.

    (for the record I think it’s a silly bylaw, that only one person per household can put up a sign seems wrong – my wife and kids should be allowed their own political views)

  9. Is the ODT editor’s comment, regarding Cr Vandervis’ complaint to the police about the Otago Daily Times breach of the 2001 Electoral Act, by attempting to interfere with or influence voters in the process of voting in the local body elections, saying simply that due process would take its course, those of a man confident in the authorities adopting a conciliatory stance? Or is it in the knowledge that a well placed comment in an ear of the right person might just wish it all away? The Police, of course, are extremely busy over the holiday period, actively pursuing errant motorists who might be found travelling at 51kph in built up areas, or 101kph on the open road, leaving little time or resource to attend to trivia such as the rights of the citizens to not be fed provocative stuff likely to shift the outcome of a democratic election. It seems that the editor might be on safe ground in his confidence, if past events are the criteria he uses.

  10. Received from Lee Vandervis
    Friday, 20 December 2013 11:01 p.m.

    It has turned out to be surprisingly difficult to get any Government Department to deal with a complaint of a media breech of the NZ Electoral Act 1993, or the Local Electoral Act 2001.

    I have been warned with a quotation from Oscar Wilde to “Never pick a fight with a man who buys ink by the barrel.”
    However the unprecedented rating of Councillors by the ODT at the last local election is an influencing step too far by our local monopoly media.
    Dunedin Democracy has been perverted by the Otago Daily Times and someone has to call for the Local Electoral Act to be enforced.

    A difficulty has been finding a Government Agency prepared to look at my formal Electoral Complaint of our media.

    The timeline thus far is as follows:

    Tuesday 10/12/13
    • Formal Complaint with evidential links sent to the Electoral Commission, and Hon Chris Tremain [Minister of Local Government].
    • Automated Acknowledgement of Correspondence: Hon Chris Tremain
    • Response from Electoral Commission noting its limited responsibilities and saying that “The Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) is responsible for the rules regarding local body elections. Your complaint has been forwarded to DIA for direct reply.”
    • Copy sent to ODT Editor – no response.
    • Copy sent to ODT Manager/Owner Nick Smith – response: “Good luck, I don’t think they ll waste much time discussing.”

    Thursday 12/12/13
    • Response from Department of Internal Affairs noting its limited responsibilities and saying that I should refer the matter back to DCC Electoral Officer Pam Jordan, with prescribed legal processes … to be referred to the Police.
    • Copy of complaint sent to DCC’s Pam Jordan, CEO Sue Bidrose and Governance head Sandy Graham. – verbally advised that they would seek a legal opinion.

    Wednesday 18/12/13
    • Ring Dunedin Police for an appropriate email contact to make complaint. Told that I would have to present complaint in person to Dunedin Central Police Station.

    Thursday 19/12/13
    • Go to Dunedin Central Police Station mid-morning with complaint and evidence and eventually told that an appropriate Police Officer was not available to take my compliant or evidence and that I would be visited by the appropriate Police Officer that afternoon.
    • Rung that afternoon and message left on my cellphone that the appropriate Police Officer was unavailable, but would take my complaint the next day.

    Friday 20/12/13
    • Rung by CIB Detective Brett Roberts to say that he was again unavailable to see me today but would be able to take my complaint on Monday 23/12/13. I have confirmed that I would be able to meet Detective Roberts at 1pm on Monday.

    I will let you know what happens when I finally get someone from a Government Agency to accept my Electoral Act complaint and evidence.


  11. The ODT Watcher

    Chris Morris has reached his use-by-date as a council reporter. He has been doing it for too long now and this election ‘analysis’ exercise by him is symptomatic of someone who has become cynical and jaded. While watching politics would make anyone so at times, a degree of professionalism is still required. The comments about Lee Vandervis, and others, came across as downright bitchy. By all means report real misdemeanours by politicians, but a line has to be drawn somewhere. Chris Morris crossed that line here.
    A journalist is only effective if they are trusted or seen as basically fair. When they seek to pervert stories by taking angles, where the truth is hidden or glossed over, a journalist becomes nothing more than a hack.
    Winning an inhouse award, two years running, doesn’t cut it. It’s like a prize given out at a cub pack. As a young man he needs to move on if he wants a credible career in journalism.

  12. Anonymous

    How old is that quote? Ink has long since been replaced by many forms of digital distribution. The ink of informed news has long gone off in the barrel and the printed word keeps a man focused on limited information.

    Tarnished are the subscribers who reach for the ink of yesteryear.

  13. Calvin Oaten

    Lee should go to the ‘Monty Python’ house of government. 3rd floor, corridor 7 second door past that of ‘The Ministry of Silly Walks’ you will find Mr Quivooy’s office of the ‘Department of Passing of Bucks’, ask to see Mr Tremaine and you will most certainly be told that he is ‘non compus mentos’.
    Then return to the police on the ground floor of the same building. There you will be told that they are all out to lunch at the ‘Carisbrook Hotel’ where the guest entertainer is David Benson-Pope doing a live demonstration of how to eat lunch whilst juggling with a conscience in one hand and the past in the other. They will all come away convinced that the law is an ass. Then you simply go to the farm for some R&R taking out your frustrations on a bunch of trees with a very big tractor. Works every time.

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