open Secondary menu

Comparative Assessment of Central Electoral Agencies

Election Commission of India


India is a constitutional democracy with a parliamentary system of government. The Election Commission of India (ECI) was established under India's Constitution in 1950. The ECI's constitutional authority includes preparing electoral rolls and exercising control over elections to the national Parliament, to the offices of the president and vice-president and to state legislatures. The Constitution also provides for the appointment of commissioners, the conditions of their tenure and removal from office and the availability of staff for the ECI to carry out its functions. The Constitution establishes the primacy of the Chief Election Commissioner and provides the ECI with the authority needed to carry out its mandate. The Constitution also establishes voter entitlement on the basis of citizenship and age and bars the courts from interfering in electoral matters.


According to the Constitution of India, the ECI can have one or more commissioners. The presidentFootnote 15 must appoint a Chief Election Commissioner and may also determine the number of, and appoint additional, commissioners with relevant expert knowledge. There is no legal requirement to consult with other parties on presidential selections, and, thus far, the advice of opposition parties has not been sought before appointing a new commissioner. Only the prime minister and the government's Council of Ministers provide input into the selection process. Commissioners are typically selected from senior-ranking public servants with good reputations for neutrality and fairness. The president may also appoint regional commissioners before each election to assist the ECI in performing its functions, but only after consulting with the Chief Election Commissioner. The first ECI in 1950 had only a single member – the Chief Election Commissioner. In what was seen at the time to be an attempt to limit the power of the position, two additional commissioners were added in 1989 and again in 1993. Since 1993, the ECI has consisted of three members.

The law allows commissioners to be appointed for up to six years or until age 65, whichever is earlier. Within this range, the president can specify a shorter term of office as well as commissioners' conditions of service. However, the law stipulates that the Chief Election Commissioner must be granted the salary and benefits available to a Supreme Court judge, and these entitlements cannot be reduced after appointment. The Chief Election Commissioner can be removed from office only through impeachment by Parliament on the grounds of misbehaviour or incapacity. Regional commissioners can be removed from office only on the recommendation of the Chief Election Commissioner. The current Chief Election Commissioner, Mr. V.S. Sampath, was previously employed in the administrative civil service of India and will conclude his term in 2015, after six years on the ECI, when he reaches age 65. The other two commissioners, Harishankar Brahma and Syed Nasim Ahmad Zaidi, also former civil servants, will have served six years and four or five years, respectively, before they retire at age 65.

The ECI has the power to decide when it meets, how often it meets and whether its meetings will be held in public or private. It will typically convene two days each week during non-election times and hold daily meetings during election periods. It frequently entertains submissions and delegations from members of the public, civil society organizations and political entities, and it has a policy of keeping all meetings open to the public. Election commissioners have equal say, and decisions are made by majority vote.

The ECI Secretariat's budget is not a charge on the Consolidated Fund of India, but is a voted allotment approved in Parliament. According to an agreement between the central government and state governments, the Secretariat's administrative expenditures are wholly met through budget grants of the central government's Ministry of Law and Justice. This budget is used for commissioner and staff salaries and the Secretariat's operating expenses, including the cost of some centrally supplied equipment, such as electronic voting machines. In 2013–2014, the ECI's budget was 656,200,000 rupees. The ECI has not had any major problems securing the funding necessary to fulfill its mandate because politicians are loath to interfere with its funding requests.

Mandate, Powers and Responsibilities

Many of the powers and functions of the ECI are referred to in the Representation of the People Act, 1950. This legislation describes its authority to oversee the preparation of electoral rolls and appoint chief electoral officers, district election officers and electoral registration officers for each state. The responsibility for delimiting electoral boundaries is vested with a separate Delimitation Commission. The ECI is represented on, and provides support to, this body.

The Representation of the People Act, 1951 further defined the ECI's powers by laying out somewhat more detailed provisions for conducting elections. These changes gave the ECI some important tools for administering elections, including the authority to select election dates, appoint additional election officers (such as returning officers and observers),Footnote 16 use voting machines and publish election results. It was also given the responsibility for allocating broadcast time on the state-owned cable television network and other electronic media and the powers of a civil court to investigate complaints and enforce the election rules.

In 1989, the Act was amended to give the ECI additional responsibility for registering political parties and candidate nominations and monitoring political contributions and election expenses. The ECI imposed a strict framework around party registration to prevent "in name only" parties from contesting elections. In an effort to enforce campaign-financing rules, the ECI appoints financial observers to monitor the expenses of the participants during an election and requires parties and candidates to file financial reports. The use of financial observers is thought to have reduced the level of illegal spending during campaigns, but, as discussed below, it has not brought the problem under control.

The ECI has no regulatory powers. Electoral law-making powers rest with both Houses of Parliament and the state legislatures, but any new or amended laws they make are to be used only to fill in voids left by the principal laws. Laws passed by the states must be consistent with, and cannot override, constitutional provisions or ascendant Acts of Parliament. However, before governments at the national or state levels can make or change any of the rules for conducting elections, they must consult the ECI.

The ECI has developed supplemental rules, which are set out in the Registration of Electors Rules 1960 and the Conduct of Elections Rules 1961, as well as a "Model Code of Conduct," which it has also developed, through consensus with political participants, to provide guidance on acceptable behaviour by parties and candidates. The Code also deals with the misuse of government resources by the party in power during elections; this is an example of one of the ECI's "soft laws," which does not have legal force but rather relies on the threat of negative publicity to achieve compliance. This quasi-legal approach to codifying the rules has been found to be very effective in controlling the behaviour of candidates, parties and a government willing to misuse state resources to gain political advantage during elections. The ECI prefers this approach over having legal infractions handled by the courts because they can sometimes take years to resolve. The ECI's orders are widely publicized by a largely free media and receive very swift attention and reparation from wrongdoers.

The ECI's wide-ranging constitutional authority is somewhat unusual for an EMB, but it provides a high degree of protection against reductions in authority and, therefore, more stability in electoral governance. On the other hand, there is a noticeable lack of detail in India's electoral legislation, and that has prompted the ECI to fill in the gaps. According to McMillan, "The lack of specificity regarding the scope of the Election Commission's role has resulted in a widening of its range of functions and control of executive authority during election campaigns" (2012, 189).

Operational Arrangements

The ECI performs its functions through a Secretariat located at its head office in New Delhi. The ECI usually makes tenured appointments of four deputy election commissioners and three directors general from the civil service to lead and direct its activities. The Secretariat employs approximately 350 full-time personnel, with 40 to 50 additional temporary staff brought on during an election. At the state level, a full-time chief electoral officer, nominated by the state government and appointed by the ECI, manages elections. Senior civil servants occupy these positions. State chief electoral officers cannot be dismissed without the approval of the ECI.

The job of conducting general elections in India is a massive and complex undertaking that extends over a period of almost two months. It involves nearly 5 million election officers and 500,000 police force members; the armed forces are not involved in India's elections. While the ECI exercises control over these officials, including their appointment, supervision, discipline and suspension, they are not its employees. For the most part, election officers are seconded from the ranks of the neutralFootnote 17 civil service of state governments. According to the Constitution, the ECI has access to this ready pool of experienced and impartial workers without having to absorb training costs or salaries.

In each election, thousands of candidates are affiliated with national and state parties and as many independent candidates. India has a population of 1.27 billion people (as of September 2013), and there are over 670 million electors on the electoral rolls, of whom almost 390 million turn out to vote. Voting takes place at 900,000 polling stations throughout 28 states, five union territories and their roughly 500 districts. Each level of government funds the costs of its own elections or shares the costs when both parliamentary and state legislature elections are held together. The cost of India's last parliamentary election in 2009 was approximately 8.466 million rupees.

As noted above, the ECI has considerable input into the timing of elections. Within the last six months of the five-year terms for Parliament and state legislatures, it determines the date on which the next election will be held. It does not need to consult with the government or the prime minister in setting the date – it is the exclusive domain of the ECI. It also establishes the number and location of polling stations, counting centres and most other operational arrangements.

Accountability and Independence

In terms of accountability, there are no legal obligations for the ECI to report to Parliament each year or following an election. Nevertheless, it frequently prepares papers and reports on electoral matters, which it makes available to the public and to Parliament. There is also no formal mechanism for it to recommend changes to electoral law. However, it plays a major role in electoral reform by submitting legislative proposals to the government and making public its views on the changes it believes are necessary, attempting to gain consensus on issues from the major political parties (e.g. "Model Code of Conduct") and encouraging public debate. Many of the changes to India's electoral laws have also come from court challenges brought by civil society groups and non-governmental organizations. Despite the relative lack of formal accountability mechanisms, the ECI's financial records are subject to audit by both the Comptroller and the Auditor General, and any resulting reports are tabled in Parliament. 

According to Patidar and Jha (2006, 192), the ECI is widely recognized by experts as a model of independence. The Indian Constitution established it to be autonomous, well resourced and beyond the reach of government. McMillan also notes, "Although highly political in terms of its actions, the Election Commission has developed and maintained a public reputation as an independent institution which has given it the authority to intervene and regulate the conduct of elections" (2012, 187). McMillan asserts that the ECI's reputation has been acquired, in part, from the frequent need to interpret the broad provisions of the Constitution and the antiquated legislative prescription governing electoral matters.

The Supreme Court of India has provided express authority for the ECI's approach to interpreting and augmenting India's electoral law. In the case of Mohinder Singh Gill & Anr. v. The Chief Election Commissioner, the Court commented, "the framers of the Constitution took care to leaving scope for exercise of residuary power by the Commission, in its own right, as a creature of the Constitution, in the infinite variety of situations that may emerge from time to time in such a large democracy as ours." And, further, "Once the appointment is made by the President, the Election Commission remains insulated from extraneous influences, and that cannot be achieved unless it has an amplitude of powers in the conduct of elections – of course in accordance with the existing laws. But where these are absent, and yet a situation has to be tackled, the Chief Election Commissioner has not to fold his hands and pray to God for divine inspiration to enable him to exercise his functions and to perform his duties or to look to any external authority for the grant of powers to deal with the situation."Footnote 18

Many of the ECI's interpretations, decisions and rules are popular with the public but resisted by the political entities they are intended to control. At times, however, its administrative rules have been challenged and struck down by the courts as beyond the scope of its authority.

The ECI is not free from accusations of partisanship, but it puts electoral integrity first and is reluctant to bow to government authority (McMillan 2012, 189). McMillan notes that its success is based on its administrative competence and the openness and accessibility it provides to the electoral process. However, he qualifies an otherwise strong endorsement of the ECI by observing that the expansionist role it has played to fill the vacuum of legislative authority and its attempts to fix the political system are distractions from its fundamental mission and will eventually weaken it. For now, its image as a fierce advocate of democratic principles and values has earned it public endorsement. In the 2009 National Election Study, almost 60 percent of respondents indicated that they had either a great deal or some trust in the ECI, compared to just over 45 percent for political parties. In addition, 72 percent thought that elections in India were conducted fairly, compared to less than 10 percent who thought they were unfair. No doubt the public esteem for the ECI has been earned by the convictions and decisions taken by the individuals who have been appointed as its members.


The following are challenges that the ECI recognizes it needs to continue to address. Its major challenges have been dubbed the "three M's" – muscle power, misuse of government resources and "black" money.

  • Muscle power has to do largely with a practice known as "booth capturing," a type of electoral fraud in which party supporters "capture" a polling booth by intimidating election officers, filling the polling station with party loyalists, preventing legitimate electors from entering and illegally voting in their place, thus ensuring victory for the party they support. Legal sanctions for this offence, coupled with the introduction of electronic voting machines with features introduced by the ECI, such as a time delay between entering each vote and a deactivation device, have helped to curb this serious voter suppression tactic.
  • Misuse of government resources, in the form of personnel, funds, program advertising, vehicles and aircraft, was once rampant in India's elections. The ECI's response to this abuse of incumbency has been to include prohibitions in its "Model Code of Conduct" against the use of the government's official machinery during election campaigns. While the prospect of detection, sanction by the ECI and the resulting negative publicity has not ended this abuse, the ECI thinks that the practice has now been severely curtailed.
  • "Black money" usually refers to funds earned on the black market, on which taxes have not been paid. In the context of Indian elections, it refers more generally to funds that are difficult to trace and that enter election campaigns in the form of prohibited donations and illegal spending. The funds are used to circumvent the contribution and spending limits imposed on candidates and political parties. The ECI has been trying to come to grips with the problem by imposing more stringent accounting and reporting requirements on parties and candidates, ordering the co-operation of banks and deploying more financial observers. Unfortunately, these measures do not seem to have brought the problem under control, and legislative changes and stiffer punishments may be needed to deter this type of electoral corruption.
  • Finally, there is the ongoing challenge of trying to keep India's electoral rolls up to date. With such a vast electorate, encompassing nearly 825 million people, and greater internal movement within the country in recent years, the ECI has been unable to keep its electoral rolls current. It estimates that there is at least a 10 percent error rate in the rolls, although critics have estimated it to be much higher. Part of the problem is the incomplete coverage in the distribution of national identity cards, which were introduced to control fraudulent voting and which are required for voter registration. The ECI is now scrutinizing its electoral rolls to improve their integrity by using electronic data-matching tools to identify missing and duplicate electors.

Electoral Commission of New Zealand


New Zealand is a unitary state that operates on a Cabinet-parliamentary model of government. It is a relatively small and socially homogeneous political community, with the exception of the minority Māori population. Before 1996, elections to the House of Representatives (commonly called Parliament) were based on the simple plurality system. Since then, elections have been conducted on the mixed member proportional (MMP) system, in which electors cast two ballots: one for a political party and one for a local candidate. There are also certain constituencies designated for Māori representatives.

In all seven elections held under MMP since 1996, no party has achieved a majority of the 120 seatsFootnote 19 in Parliament; as a result, coalition governments have been elected that involve two or more parliamentary parties represented in Cabinet and occasionally also Māori MPs. The scale of the political system and the nature of the representation system probably contribute to a greater sense of confidence in the electoral process than might exist in larger political systems.


From 1993 to 2012, four national agencies were responsible for electoral matters in New Zealand: the Electoral Commission (EC), the Chief Electoral Officer (housed in the Ministry of Justice), the Electoral Enrolment Centre and the Representation Commission, established intermittently to determine constituency boundaries. The EC was responsible for public education and administering rules related to political parties, the Chief Electoral Officer was accountable for administering elections and laws relating to candidates, while the Electoral Enrolment Centre of New Zealand Post Ltd. handled voter registration and maintained the electoral rolls. Following its 2008 general election, several reviews of New Zealand's electoral structures were carried out, and the existing institutional arrangements were found to be flawed because they duplicated functions, created confusion, increased costs and increased complexity for political parties, candidates and the general public.

Three options were considered: the status quo; a departmental model, with a new electoral commissioner located within the Ministry of Justice; and a Crown-entity model, with a new electoral commissioner designated as a statutory officer and a new commission created as an independent Crown entity. The options were evaluated against the key variables of independence, accountability, effective discharge of electoral administration functions, organizational capacity, cost-effectiveness and the timing of implementation. The status quo option was seen to perpetuate the overlap of roles, disjointed decision-making and duplication of administrative costs. The departmental option was deemed to be a highly effective and accountable model, but was rejected because it risked the perception, domestically and internationally, that New Zealand's electoral administration lacked the independence found in other jurisdictions. Despite offering a somewhat reduced level of accountability for delivering services and spending funds, the Crown-entity model was selected, with the EC placed at arm's length from executive government. It was also thought that designating the EC as an independent officer of the Crown would create an institutional separation from the executive branch of government and ensure greater structural, as well as perceived, independence.

The creation of a single statutory authority with overarching responsibility for all aspects of parliamentary elections and referendums was introduced in 2010. In introducing the Bill establishing the new commission, the Minister of Justice stated, "The adoption of an independent Crown entity for electoral administration will provide the best balance of a high level of independence with good accountability and the ability to administer the electoral functions to a high standard" (New Zealand 2009). The amendments establishing a new Electoral Commission of New Zealand and amalgamating former electoral agencies were phased in so as to minimize disruption in delivering electoral services and administering the 2011 general election and referendum (Electoral Commission n.d.). The new commission assumed its statutory functions under the Electoral Act 1993 in October 2010, and the complete package of legislative changes was fully implemented by 2012.


The current New Zealand Electoral Commission has three members – a chairperson, a deputy chairperson and a Chief Electoral Officer – all of whom were appointed for terms of five years or less by the Governor General on the recommendation of the House of Representatives. Their appointments followed an open, merit-based, competitive process, conducted by the Ministry of Justice, calling for persons of integrity and independence with the necessary skills and experience to apply. The interviewing panel consisted of the Deputy Secretary of Justice, a High Court judge and the Ombudsman. The Minister of Justice circulated the names of recommended candidates to the leaders of the political parties represented in the House, and names that received unanimous approval went forward as a government resolution for debate and received unanimous support in Parliament.

The current chairperson of the EC, Hon. Sir Hugh Williams, is a retired judge of the High Court. He was appointed to the former EC in 2009 and to the new EC in August 2010 for a term of three years; in December 2013, he was appointed for a further three-year term. There is no legal requirement to appoint a judge to the new commission, but this was the case with the former commission, and the legislation anticipates that this may be the case by including provisions that preserve the rights and privileges of a judge so appointed. The deputy chairperson, Jane Huria, was a director and shareholder with a private consulting firm and was appointed to the EC for a three-year term in July 2011. The Chief Electoral Officer, Robert Peden, is the chief executive of the organization and a member of the independent Representation Commission, which determines the number of electorates and their boundaries every five years. Mr. Peden was originally appointed in 2005 as Chief Electoral Officer when the office was located in the Ministry of Justice. Before that, he worked as a policy and legal advisor for the Ministry of Justice. He was appointed for a five-year term to the new commission in August 2010. A remuneration authority is responsible for setting fair compensation levels for the commissioners' salaries.

Members of the EC can be reappointed or continue in office until a successor is appointed. The tenure of current appointees has been staggered so that appointments do not all expire at the same time or expire in an election year. Any member who is not a judge may be removed for just cause by the Governor General, acting upon an address from the House of Representatives. Just cause is defined to include misconduct, inability to perform the functions of office, neglect of duty and breach of any of the collective duties of the board or the individual duties of members. A judge serving as an EC member may be removed from office for a breach of the board's collective duties, but only if all of the other members are being removed for the same breach at the same time. The changes to the appointment and removal processes came about through legislative amendments in 2010 (New Zealand 2010).

Mandate, Powers and Responsibilities

The EC is defined as an independent Crown entity under the Crown Entities Act 2004. According to the Electoral Act 1993, its objective is to administer the electoral system impartially, efficiently, effectively and in a way that facilitates participation in parliamentary democracy, promotes understanding of the electoral system and associated matters, and maintains confidence in the administration of the electoral system. The EC's primary mandate is to administer parliamentary elections. There are no set dates for general elections; they are usually held in the third year of the parliamentary cycle at the call of the prime minister. The EC is also responsible for conducting by-elections and referendums.

The EC compiles and maintains an electoral enrolment for both parliamentary and local elections. The electoral rolls are updated daily since they must be available for "on demand" events. It was estimated that in the 2011 general election, the electoral roll coverage was 93.7 percent and currency 96.4 percent. The new commission assumed responsibility for managing the electoral rolls in 2012, and it delegates this function to New Zealand Post Ltd. Voting in New Zealand is voluntary, but all electors are required to register on the parliamentary electoral roll, and if they fail to do so and are convicted, they face a NZ$100 fine.

According to the Broadcasting Act 1989, the EC also administers the public broadcasting rules for allocating approximately NZ$3 million to political parties for radio and television broadcasts. This is the only money that can be spent on broadcasts to promote parties from the time the writ is issued until election day. Candidates, on the other hand, can use their own funds for advertising to garner voter support, within their spending limit.

Another major responsibility of the EC is promoting public awareness of electoral matters through education and information programs. It also conducts the Māori electoral optionFootnote 20 every five years; provides support, funding and administrative services for the work of the Representation Commission; and provides advice to the Minister of Justice on electoral matters. Additional EC responsibilities include registering political parties; assisting parties, candidates and others with their compliance obligations; and reviewing and publicly disclosing financial returns from political parties, candidates and registered promoters.Footnote 21

Operational Arrangements

At its national office in Wellington, the EC has a full-time staff of approximately 30 permanent and fixed-term positions. Six managers oversee the following organizational units: electoral events, electoral policy, communication and education, IT, corporate services and statutory relationships. The statutory relationships unit focuses on procurement, external service providers and contractors, including New Zealand Post Ltd., which has delegated responsibility for elector enrolment. There is no permanent field structure to deliver elections; instead, the necessary resource capacity, training, systems and infrastructure to support elections and referendums are put in place in the short lead-up to each event. In 2011–2012, five regional managers, 64 returning officers and 6,300 field headquarters staff were hired on fixed-term contracts to run the election and referendum. Approximately 18,000 to 20,000 additional field workers are employed on election day.

Despite its wide-ranging scope of authority over electoral matters, the EC has no powers to investigate or prosecute suspected offences under either the Electoral Act 1993 or the Broadcasting Act 1989. It follows up on complaints to gather information and determine whether a matter warrants referral to the New Zealand Police, but it has very little authority to enforce compliance with its legislation. Even financial compliance matters, such as failure of parties or candidates to file the required financial returns and broadcasting infractions, must be referred to the police for further action. It is the returning officer's responsibility to report other kinds of offences to the police.

As a result of a change to the Election Act 1993, since January 2011, the EC now provides advisory opinions on whether any particular advertisement referred to it is an "election advertisement" for the purposes of the Act. Any person can ask for an advisory opinion, and the EC's opinion simply reflects its interpretation of the law and is not a binding ruling or legal advice (Electoral Commission 2012a).

Accountability and Independence

The EC is not subject to ministerial direction in discharging its electoral functions, and, according to the law, it must act independently. It has the same accountability and reporting obligations as other Crown entities under the Crown Entities Act 2004. Accordingly, it must prepare a statement of intent at the outset of each fiscal year – something akin to a business plan – including background information on its operating environment; its scope of functions and intended operations; the specific objectives, outcomes and impacts it intends to achieve and how it intends to achieve them; financial and non-financial performance forecasts, standards and measures; matters on which it will consult with or notify the Minister of Justice before making a decision; and the frequency of reporting. The Minister can also participate in determining the content of the statement of intent by identifying additional information, making comments and ordering amendments. Despite the Minister's legislative authority to alter the contents of the statement of intent, however, it would be considered highly unusual and controversial for him or her to do so. Following each fiscal year, the EC must prepare an annual report that gives a clear assessment of its operations and performance for the reporting period. The Minister of Justice tables both the statement of intent and the annual report with the House of Representatives.

Since the EC was separated from the Ministry of Justice, its view is that it must continue to keep the Minister informed of its progress on preparations for an election and general event readiness, but, as for conducting elections, the Electoral Act 1993 provides all of the necessary mechanisms for public oversight, accountability and reporting. Nevertheless, following a general election, the EC must report to the Minister on the services it provided to electors, enrolment and voting statistics, any substantive issues that arose, any necessary or desirable changes to administrative processes or practices, legislative amendments, matters that the Minister asks it to address and any other matter it considers relevant. Under the Act, it is also required to consider and report on electoral matters referred to it by the Minister or the House of Representatives.

The EC makes funding requests on the order of NZ$6 million each year to Parliament through the Minister of Justice to provide a core-level service and staffing at its national office. Depending on where the year falls in the electoral cycle, a request may also include funds for elector enrolment, general and local authority elections, the Māori electoral option and the work of the Representation Commission. Over a three-year electoral cycle, the EC requests approximately NZ$100 million to administer elections, of which roughly 50 percent is used for elector enrolment and 50 percent for conducting the elections. Separate funding requests are made for "on demand" events such as citizen- and government-initiated referendums and by-elections. The EC's annual budgets are reviewed regularly to ensure that they meet the government's expectations for efficiency and effectiveness, and business cases must accompany funding requests.

The requirement for the EC to act independently is embodied in the Electoral Act 1993. The Act stipulates that it must act independently in performing its statutory functions and duties and exercising its statutory powers. On the other hand, its functions and duties under the Crown Entities Act 2004 are expressly exempted from this requirement for independence.

The EC works with policy advisors from the Ministry of Justice and provides advice and assistance to the Minister on proposed legislation and recommended changes to the Electoral Act 1993. There are, however, no powers for it to make regulations or advance rulings; all regulations under the Act are made by Order-in-Council.

One unique and very interesting feature of New Zealand's electoral law is the inclusion of what are called "reserved provisions." The Electoral Act 1993 identifies six fundamental features of the electoral law – the minimum age for voting, the MMP method of voting, the term of Parliament, the establishment of a Representation Commission, the periodic adjustment of electoral division boundaries and the adjustment of the quota for the redistribution of these boundaries – which cannot be repealed or amended unless they are passed by a majority vote of 75 percent of all MPs or carried by a majority vote at a poll of electors. These provisions set a higher standard for changing or eliminating important features of New Zealand's democratic system and would block any government from acting without a broad consensus. A similar provision exists with regard to displaying election advertising along public roadways. The Minister may not recommend any changes without agreement from at least half of the leaders of the political parties represented in Parliament and unless at least 75 percent of their MPs agree.

Along with the establishment of the new commission in 2010, an important change was signalled in the Electoral (Administration) Amendment Act 2010. The EC was granted the power to provide information and advice to the Minister of Justice at any time and of its own volition. This means that it is free to express its views on how elections should be administered and any need for changes in the administrative framework.


The following organizational challenges are impeding the EC's ability to fully achieve its mandate:

  • In New Zealand, there is no set date for elections. Elections are usually announced about seven to eight weeks before election day. It is a challenge for the EC to recruit field staff, procure voting places and organize a quality electionFootnote 22 in such a short period of time.
  • It has been problematic for the EC to obtain amendments to legislation early enough to be in a position to implement them before an election.
  • There has been a steep decline in voter participation – from 89 percent in 1981 to 69 percent in 2011. The EC believes that it does not control the key drivers of electoral participation but, nevertheless, recognizes that it has a role to play in reversing the trend by encouraging participation and supporting others who promote voting.
  • The EC tries to make the voting process easy for electors, but the system is complicated to administer because of the number of temporary workers involved. The EC would like to reduce the number of temporary workers and streamline voting processes – for example, by acquiring a system that electronically scrutinizes the electoral rolls and a postal-referendum management system to permit in-house scanning of postal voting returns.
  • The amount of overseas voting declined 35 percent in 2011. The only statutory alternative to postal voting is for ballot papers to be submitted by fax machines, which are becoming increasingly harder to access. The EC is looking at improving access for overseas electors by enabling them to electronically upload ballot papers to a secure system.
  • The EC's obsolete computer platform needs to be replaced, and security issues with the electoral management system need to be addressed. Funding must in place for this initiative by June 2014 in order to be ready for the 2017 general election.

Footnote 15 The president is formal head of the executive, legislature and judiciary of India. The president is elected by members of Parliament and the state legislatures, and he or she appoints the prime minister. According to the Constitution, the prime minister is the chief of government, the chief advisor to the president, the head of the Council of Ministers and the leader of the majority party in Parliament. The prime minister leads the executive branch of government and is the chairperson of the Cabinet. The prime minister allocates posts to members of the government and is responsible for bringing forward proposals for legislation.

Footnote 16 The ECI appoints observers to monitor elections, and they are required by law to be officers of the federal or state governments. They have the power to require a returning officer to stop the vote count or refrain from declaring the election results if they deem that a poll has been conducted improperly, and they are required to report the matter immediately to the ECI. (See India 1951, s. 20B.)

Footnote 17 Despite India's tradition of having a politically neutral civil service, there are frequent newspaper reports of corruption allegations, accusations of electoral fraud and charges laid against government election officers. This is, of course, not to say that the public officials seconded to work for the ECI do not, by and large, perform their duties in an impartial manner. With an election workforce as large as that in India, it would be surprising, and perhaps suspicious, not to find such reports.

Footnote 18 Mohinder Singh Gill & Anr. v. The Chief Election Commissioner, December 2, 1977.

Footnote 19 Sometimes the number of seats can be slightly higher as a result of what are called "overhang seats." For an explanation, see

Footnote 20 The Māori electoral option gives New Zealanders of Māori descent the opportunity to choose whether they want to be on the general electoral roll or the Māori electoral roll. The existence of designated Māori seats remains controversial in New Zealand; for a range of perspectives, see Bargh 2010.

Footnote 21 A registered promoter is an individual or group, other than a candidate or party, or person involved in the affairs of a candidate or party, on whose initiative an election advertisement is published for a parliamentary election. Promoters need to obtain authorization from the candidate or party before publishing the ad, identify themselves in the ad and register with the EC if they spend or intend to spend over NZ$12,300.

Footnote 22 For a definition of this term, see Appendix A, page 79.