Ken Can’t Count: No, the New Zealand Election Wasn’t Rigged

As tempting as it may be to snigger at unsubstantiated allegations of United States election fraud… New Zealand can’t be smug. Every country has its dingbats, and 2020 has shown that we are no exception.

I mention this, because over the past month or so, a committed little collection of New Zealand nutters have been arguing that October’s general election was manipulated by Dark Powers. Or hacked by Communist Operatives in transgender lizard costumes. One gets rather fuzzy on the details.

Sure, you don’t want to draw attention to such people, but I think there is a moral duty to defend the integrity of an election system against false allegations. The legitimacy of democratic government rather hinges on people considering elections legitimate, which makes it vulnerable if Fake News is allowed to run rampant. And rest assured, dear reader, that this News is very, very Fake.

(I will also confess that I find the nutters’ train-wreck reasoning to be out-and-out funny. It really makes you wonder how the hell they got through the Education System… or whether you are dealing with a Poe’s Law situation).

Exhibit A is one Ken Horlor. He’s not alone, but he’s so adorably thorough in his nuttery:

I am surprised by the number of people saying to me that the New Zealand General Election was rigged.

You’re not the only one, Ken. Especially considering that it wasn’t.

For many, the results appear too cute to be real. Almost right across the board, with only one or two exceptions, a majority in each electorate party voted Labour. 

A plurality, not a majority. But, yes, Labour won the party vote in every electorate except Epsom… which is exactly what you would expect when one party gets 50.0% of the nationwide party vote, and the other gets 25.6%.


For a flipside of this, consider 2014, when National got 47.0% of the nationwide party vote, to Labour’s 25.1%. National won the party vote in every electorate outside four seats in South Auckland.


It is almost like we are dealing with equal opportunity Dark Powers. Clearly the Communist Lizard People believe in screwing both big parties in turn.

This includes even safe and solidly ‘blue’ seats held by National.

Yes. Funny thing that. Even being 15% more National than the country doesn’t help when Labour wins the nationwide vote by over 20%.

The same thing applies in reverse, of course. Both Dunedin seats party voted National in 2014, because of the scale of the nationwide margin. Both seats were also easily retained by Labour at the candidate level.

I’ll give you some examples; Judith Collins is the Leader of the Opposition and holds the safe Auckland seat of Papakura for National. She won on the night with a comfortable majority of nearly 6,000. However, the party vote was lost to Labour by 400.  

And consider Labour’s David Cunliffe in 2014. Leader of the Opposition, and retained his Auckland seat of New Lynn by some 4,500. National won the party vote by over 1,000.

It’s almost like 2014 (National landslide) is an inverse of 2020 (Labour landslide). Again, if the Lizard People are rigging New Zealand elections, they’re doing it both ways. Maybe they’re Bi?

Selwyn is also interesting. It is a largely rural seat in the South Island, full of rich farmers. It is a safe National seat formerly held by Amy Adams who was standing down. The new candidate for National was Nicola Grigg and she held the seat with a majority of nearly 5,000. For a first time candidate, that’s pretty good. However, the party vote was lost to Labour by a whopping 2,385 on the night. That’s almost unthinkable in a seat considered very Blue. 

I have seen speculation that Selwyn has been getting a significant infusion of people moving there from Christchurch. That’s the funny thing about rural electorates – even the most dyed-in-the-wool Tory seats (and Selwyn is one) have more than just farmers living there. Dear old Ken doesn’t do nuance, clearly. It’s as though he doesn’t know about farm-workers, or rural service towns, or processing centres.

But in terms of Selwyn’s 2020 result, the two major right-wing parties (National and ACT) got a combined 20,012 party votes. The two major left-wing parties (Labour and Green) got 20, 194. Basically an equal result between the blocs… in a year where the country went Left 57.9% to 33.2%.

So Selwyn voted about 24% to the Right of the country, as defined by National/ACT versus Labour/Green. That would suggest that Selwyn is a dyed-in-the-wool Tory seat in a very, very Red year nationwide. In short, precisely what one would expect from Selwyn.

Rangitikei is its equivalent in the North Island. National to the core, the National party candidate won comfortably but the party vote was lost to Labour by 4,583.

Again, funny. I used to live in Rangitikei, and despite what Ken would have you believe, it isn’t the equivalent of Selwyn. It’s certainly Safe National (and indeed is the safest National seat in the Lower North Island), but it is not an ultra-violet Blue, in the way that Southland, Selwyn, Waikato, or Taranaki-King Country are. For a start, it’s less wealthy. For seconds, those large towns it does have (Feilding) are left-leaning. Electorally, Rangitikei is weird enough to have gone for Social Credit in the 1970s, and Labour nearly won it at the candidate level in 1999 (National won it by just 289 votes).

In fact, the 1999 party vote in Rangitikei was basically a dead heat as well (Labour 10,544 versus National 10,585). In 2002, there was a large candidate swing to National in Rangitikei (Simon Power going from a wafer-thin margin to an over 5,000 vote margin)… and yet a party vote swing to Labour meant Labour won the party vote by over 2,000. Split voting at work.

2002 was, of course, the other Labour landslide of the proportional representation era. It’s almost like it might be worth looking it up, Ken. Unless you think 2002, 2014, and 2020 were all rigged?

 Even if truly conservative in nature the pattern is almost always the same, National lost to Labour when the party votes are counted. 

Yes, Ken. That’s what happens in a party vote landslide like 2020. Same thing happened in 2002 (to National) and 2014 (to Labour). The only distinction is that in 2002 and 2014, the losing party won the party vote in four electorates – whereas in 2020 (courtesy of a larger nationwide margin), it was just a single seat.

Those saying the result is rigged look at the cuteness of all this and then say that this should not be consistent throughout the country. Voting for a candidate different from the party is somewhat difficult. In the polling station you’re given a form and it has on the left hand side of the page the parties contesting the election, and then on the right hand side of the page, next to the party name is the candidate for that very same party. If choosing one party, it is highly likely the voter will also tick the name alongside that same party. This didn’t happen in so many cases, consistently people voted for Labour and then searched down the list of candidates to find the National electorate candidate. Is this credible?

Adorable. Ken discovers that Split Voting is a thing. It does happen, and indeed is actually fairly common:

27% of New Zealand voters split their vote in 2017, whereas 32% did so in 2014. Split voting saved National’s electorate MPs in 2020, just as it saved Labour’s in 2014.

(Funny thing – it doesn’t actually have to be people party voting Labour and candidate voting National, though that does happen. It also happens if people party vote ACT and candidate vote National, which results in Labour winning party votes in weird places if the right-wing vote is badly split. People party voting Green and candidate voting Labour has the same effect the other way).

In the past, when the tide was going out for National, Labour held seats went even redder, while National seats moved to the left but still held up, albeit with a smaller majority. The trend tends to be for rock solid National supporters to never vary their party vote, however examples do exist of them changing their less important candidate vote. 

I really don’t know which MMP-era elections Ken is referring to, but the only other Labour landslide of the proportional representation era (2002) saw National win the party vote in four seats (Clutha-Southland, Rakaia, Taranaki-King Country, and Epsom), yet win the candidate vote in twenty-one.

In 2014, Labour won the party vote in four South Auckland seats, yet won the candidate vote in twenty-seven seats.

In 2020? National won the party vote in only Epsom, and won the candidate vote in twenty-three seats.

I don’t know about Ken, but the trend I see does not help his argument. There is a very consistent pattern of the big parties holding onto electorates at the candidate level even as their party vote collapses.

The 2020 result is remarkable because across the entire country, solid National voters ditched and voted for the enemy, but nevertheless had the good sense to vote for their National party electorate candidate. Is this believable?

Solid National voters in 2020 did any number of things. Many of them party voted ACT (because they thought Judith Collins was insufficiently crazy). Many of them party voted for other small parties. Either way, that resulted in Labour winning the party vote in strange places.

And, yes. Many of them clearly party voted Labour too. Perhaps they realised that a Labour win was inevitable, and voted Labour to minimise Green influence? Maybe they were happy enough with their local National MP, but thought that National’s response to the Coronavirus was lacking?

And so on. One need not look for conspiracies where there are none.

Clearly, while not proven election interference, close scrutiny must be given to the results. Perhaps a recount could be held in Selwyn and Rangitikei, with independent scrutineers present. If nothing is done, this could lead to further distrust of the process.

The only people who distrust the process are dingbats who would sooner believe in conspiracy theories than actually look up the Electoral Commission’s own website:

To recap, votes are hand-counted twice. Preliminary (the election night results) and official (the final results three weeks later). Scrutineers watch the count.

Once the hand-count is complete for a polling place, the totals are hand-written on a form (co-signed by the returning officer and a Justice of the Peace). The totals are then fed into the electronic Election Management System. If the totals are entered incorrectly, one can fix the error by referring back to the hand-written totals on the certified form. And any errors in the preliminary count can be corrected via the subsequent official count.

Update: it has been pointed out to me that rigging the outcome of the election would be a relatively simple affair.

No, it really wouldn’t. You would need the counters, the scrutineers, the returning officer, and the relevant Justice of the Peace to all be in on it. Just to rig one polling place. Basically, technology is not the issue – you need to mess with the copious paper-trail.

But what Ken is referring to is this comment, from his comments section:

Any good programmer (even from overseas) can manipulate data on the electoral database at any point in time, including in real-time, via scripts.

Such scripts can be made to search and replace votes to fit a given criteria (ie: electorates and enrolled voters per electorate on database) to ensure final data fits the required outcome.

(Hypothetical example: 16% of party votes from Nat to Lab need to be changed in Otago to ensure a win to Lab. Code will ensure 1 in each 16 votes (in real-time) is for Lab or change will be executed. Once 16% is reached then change will become non-exe).

Scripts can also allow a small delay to execute changes to data, to ensure “it looks” real-time on TV/web, when it is not.

Which such scripts, there will be no need for anybody but the coder and its employer to know the truth.

Not implying the Commission is corrupt, as such script could be uploaded with a stolen password or as a Trojan Horse by a third party.

Only an old fashioned paper recount can avoid software manipulation, if such scripts were indeed coded into the electoral database.

Oh god. So, so painful.

This comment shows the danger of a little bit of knowledge. Yes, election results can be altered this way – but only in a situation where each vote is put into the system separately. Which New Zealand does not do. We electronically enter the totals of polling places, not individual votes. In short, this comment merely demonstrates the danger of electronic voting… which is a valid concern, but completely irrelevant to Ken’s argument, since New Zealand voting and counting are manual.

A script that altered the totals of polling places? It would fall foul of that handwritten certified form from earlier… so the error is easily picked up. Paper-trail, remember?

(But let’s pretend that the system were hackable in this manner…. it turns out that the maths is still off. If you want to swing 16% of votes from National to Labour via electronic hacking, you don’t target one in every 16 votes. You would need to switch at least one in every six or so (you know, 16%)… and even one in six wouldn’t be enough, since chances are, some of that 16% is Labour to start with, and so not flippable. Your script would be better off dealing with every second vote until you hit 16%. Bloody hell, the stupidity is strong with this one…).

All this has not stopped the dingbats interrogating the Electoral Commission about its tabulating software:

As noted, screwing with the software actually would not be enough to rig a New Zealand general election, but as per the Electoral Commission, the software was developed locally, and is subject to a regular independent security audit. No overseas software involved.

I hope Ken is happy now. If only he had thought to do a bit of research before making himself look like (1) a sore-loser and (2) a confounded fool.

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