How the Dunedin 2019 Mayoral Election was won…

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My submission to the Electoral Commission and the Minister of Local Government raising issues from the 2019 Election, with the Minister’s reply recently received:

From: Lee Vandervis <>
Date: Friday, 28 February 2020 at 10:31 AM
To: Justice department <>, Nanaia Mahuta <>
Subject: Electoral Commission 2019 Dunedin election submission

Dear Nanaia and the Committee Secretariat,

As the Mayoral candidate with the majority of first preference votes in Dunedin in 2019 but still not the Mayor, I wish to submit that your proposed review is welcome and the suggested administration of elections by the Electoral Commission rather than local government staff is long overdue.

The inevitable codependence of Mayor and CEO compounded by agendas differing between Council staff and elected Councillors create many tensions and vested interests in election outcomes that speak against local staff running those local elections.

I have a largely different view to the DCC submission on the 2019 Election review created by our new Mayor Hawkins, who won on subsequent-to-first-preference votes with the help of a both Green and Labour Party machinery, and a local monopoly media smear campaign against me using DCC staff-leaked untrue claims of 11 staff complaints against me.

The Otago Daily Times DCC reporter responsible for the election-year smearing stories based on the untrue staff-complaint claims has now changed jobs post-election receiving the top Dunedin City Council Marketing and Communications job.
The undemocratic and self-serving role of the local monopoly media and our local Council bureaucracy has, in my opinion, skewed the Mayoral and Councillor election results in a number of anti-democratic ways:

The leaking of damaging scuttlebutt and the breaching of the Privacy Act by DCC staff in relation to a number of issues including election signage and supposed DCC staff ‘complaints’ of me have been pushed by the out-going Mayor Cull and the ODT in the election run-up, and further compounded on social media.
The only confirmed staff complaint against me [leaked in another breech of the Privacy Act pre-election by DCC staff] was a response to my initial complaint of staff, and the resultant staff Code of Conduct process against me which is currently being challenged at my personal cost by a Judicial Review.

I support your proposal to have local elections run at arms’ length by a non-local Electoral Commission group rather than by local council staff, and to review voting methods.

DCC CEO, senior staff, the Greens and Labour local politicians, and some local big business interests had very strong self-interests in maintaining a status-quo Mayor in the Dunedin 2019 election, and they only narrowly achieved this in a variety of ways.

I believe that DCC staff involvement in organising election events, [eg specifically targeting University voting], DCC staff provision of candidate advice and nomination information, staff handling voting papers and their delivery to Christchurch for counting, changing election signage rules, again breaching the Privacy Act leaking damaging signage rule stories to the media, and DCC staff leaking defamatory claims against me personally are all weaknesses in the current electoral system that need to be investigated.

Most of these issues could be avoided if local body election administration was undertaken by the Electoral Commission or other non-local delegated organisation.
I believe that there would be overall positive economies of scale with centralised electoral administration, and more confidence amongst candidates that there was a more level consistent campaigning field.

I have also vainly complained for many elections past about the hundreds, possibly thousands of voting papers that literally litter North Dunedin streets and student halls of residence during election time, and the opportunity they present of being hoovered up and used illegally. Anecdotal suggestions on social media that this has been happening, and even support of this vote tampering, are deeply concerning. The practice of sending out voting papers to students for years after they have moved on from Otago University has created a large-scale tampering opportunity that would be lessened by a secure on-line nation-wide [FPP] voting system which I support.

Local body staff interest in local body election outcomes can be significant, especially when some of the local bureaucrats very jobs may depend on a certain election outcome.
In my view the STV system [that was approved in Dunedin after a big Political Party and University push] has resulted in a more diverse range of elected representatives at the expense of democratically popular representatives. Our ‘modified’ STV system used since 2004 was cobbled together by 2 Internal Affairs computer programmers to rank winning candidates based on arbitrary thresholds, and the cumulative over-weighting of subsequent-to-first-preference votes that are severe weaknesses in the opaque STV system.

In our 2019 Mayoral election the STV system required more than 10 iterations to swamp the popular democratic first preference Mayoral votes.
Many voters have complained to me of STV complexity, and the confusion of having DCC STV voting alongside ORC FPP voting. Anecdotal evidence points to confusing voting systems that have put people off voting at all.
Even the University ‘experts’ Hayward and Geddes could not agree prior to the election on how to advise people to vote in the confusing, opaque, and unverifiable modified STV system.
Electionz’ Warwick Lampp has been unable to provide convincing evidence that our modified STV system outcomes are truly representative, saying only that the STV system gives consistent results when test run.

I was an initial supporter of STV based on University ‘expert’ claims, but since being involved and seeing how it really ‘works’ I am completely opposed. It is arbitrary, unrepresentative, unverifiable, and widely misunderstood and mistrusted by many voters.

The claim by the beneficiary of this STV system Mayor Hawkins in his DCC submission that STV is a more representative system than FPP is not supported by the facts or by the outcomes in my view.
STV is widely acknowledged now locally as punishing strong candidates with specific policies and strong first voter preference, in favour of candidates who forward few policies or specifics.

Other issues which speak against local election administration include a resistance by local staff to investigate hidden electoral donations, answering questions regarding the handling of votes, and creating electoral signage rules that favour some candidate’s traditional signage advertising while out-lawing others.

All of the above issues have email trails, many extensive, which I am happy to forward and to personally present when addressing an investigative Electoral Commission panel, which is now absolutely necessary to restore public confidence in our local government electoral process.

Kind regards,

Cr. Lee Vandervis

47 Garfield Avenue
Dunedin 9010

Office of Hon Nanaia Mahuta
MP for Hauraki-Waikato
Minister for Māori Development Associate Minister for the Environment
Minister of Local Government Associate Minister of Housing (Māori Housing)
Associate Minister for Trade and Export Growth
+64 4 817 8711 Private Bag 18041, Parliament Buildings, Wellington 6160, New Zealand
29 April 2020
Lee Vandervis
Councillor, Dunedin City Council
Tēnā koe Lee
Thank you for your email of 28 February 2020, sharing your views on local elections in New Zealand.
I note your concerns with the Single Transferrable Vote (STV) system. This is a system that local authorities can choose to adopt, and it is a matter for the Council as to whether to keep the STV system or go back to First Past the Post electoral system.
You may be interested to know officials at the Department of Internal Affairs are working on options to modernise voting in New Zealand, which includes online voting trials. Online voting has the potential to assist certain groups of electors who currently have issues exercising their right to vote under the postal system, such as people voting from an overseas location.
You may also be interested to know that the Justice Committee is conducting an inquiry into the 2019 local body elections, to identify opportunities for improvements to the legislation. The submission period for this inquiry closed on 29 February 2020, and the Committee’s report will be made available on the parliament website. Further information can be found at
I appreciate your views and suggestions on improving local governance. As you know, the Productivity Commission has completed its inquiry into local government funding and financing. The Government was presented with the Commission’s final report and recommendations and will be responding to the Commission’s report in due course.
Thank you again for writing.
Heoi anō
Hon Nanaia Mahuta
Minister of Local Government



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2 Responses to How the Dunedin 2019 Mayoral Election was won…

  1. KolA says:

    “The Otago Daily Times DCC reporter responsible for the election-year smearing stories based on the untrue staff-complaint claims has now changed jobs post-election receiving the top Dunedin City Council Marketing and Communications job.”

    Conflict of interests anyone?

  2. Turns out, strictly speaking, that he did not get quite the top Dunedin City Council Marketing and Communications job, as there is a manager or two above him [as there are for almost all DCC employees]

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