The Ashburton Guardian. Magna est Veritas, et Prevalebit. MONDAY, JUNE 5, 1882. The Electoral Laws.
TOWN EDITION. [lssued at 4.40 p. in. j
We recently took occasion to point out the necessity which existed for an immediate alteration in tlie electoral laws of the colony. The ; matter has been brought into prominence at this juncture by the recent issue of the Supplementary Roll (No. 3) for the Wakanui district, with its 300 and odd names, among which, no doubt, are some having every right to be found there. But we do not hesitate to affirm that the vast majority have no moral right, and that very many have neither legal nor moral right to a place on that roll. And as the law now stands those persons who would fain purge the roll, and see the now near approaching election decided by the bona fide electors of Wakanui, are powerless to get those names removed, although they know full well that many of thtem cannot legally claim a place on the roll. With the law as it at present stands it is an utter impossibility to keep the electoral rolls of the colony pure, for if, after the present contest, the names illegally placed on the roll for Wakanui are erased, the same “rigging” process will be resorted to the next time an election takes place in which one of the candidates may be a man who thinks that the end justifies the means. It is true the Registration of Electors Act states that it shall be the duty of the Registrar to “ make inquiries ” as to the truth of the particulars stated on the claims for enrolment. This may be a bit of a safeguard as far as the property qualification is concerned, but as regards the residential qualification the clause is almost a dead letter, especially in a scattered country district. It has been held, and very rightly, too, that the writs being once issued for an election the roll for the district concerned is final, and no matter how many aliens or other persons not qualified may be on it, they can, "one and all, put in an appearance at the ballot box and claim to record their votes. It was through a misreading of the law in this respect by one of the Deputy Returning Officers last December which has caused the present unfortunate contretemps in connection with the Wakanui seat. The electoral rolls being, as., we have said, held in law to be perfect, points to the necessity of their being closed a sufficient time before the issue of the writ for an election to enable the names of those not qualified to be struck off the roll, and thus prevent their taking part in a matter with which they have no legal right to interfere. This would effectually prevent an unscrupulous candidate —and, unfortunately, there are such, we find—working the oracle and virtually disfranchising the real electors of a district. There is another clause of the Act to which we take exception, and that is what may be termed the “ transfer’ ” clause. By its provisions many names can be placed on a roll which have not the slightest right to be there. For instance, all that a man claiming under the residential clause for Ashburton has to do to secure a vote for Wakanui is to go and live for a month prior to the closing of the roll just outside the belt or at Tinwald, and he can claim a vote for the Wakanui district. It is easy to see how such a privilege may be abused—in fact, we pointed out one instance of such a sharp practice in our article of Tuesday last, and no doubt there are many such. There is another provision of the Act which, we think, should be made more stringent, and that is clause 24, which provides that “ any person who knowingly and wilfully makes a false statement in any application, certificate, or declaration, shall be liable to a penalty not exceeding This, we agree with our contemporary, the Dunedin Stat, is not a sufficient preventative. The offence of making a false declaration on a claim to vote should be'punished by a term of imprisonment, and not merely a fine. If the law remains as at present, no man with clean hands will be found to contest the seats for the Assembly at all, for he will see how almost hopeless is the struggle should he happen to be pitted against a mah whose sense of right and wrong is not of the keenest; and, as a consequence, political blacklegs will be permitted to scramble for the honorarium amongst themselves, while honest politicians, who would scorn to fight them with their own weapons, will look on in disgust. If it is possible for good to come out of evil,, perhaps the fact of the evil being made so glaringly apparent in the case of Wakanui may draw attention to the facilities which the law at present holds out for fraud, and we may hope to speedily see the much needed amendments we have noted become law