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MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS.

SOME ANOMALIES. WHY.THE ROLL IS OVERCROWDED. "The law," said- Mr. Bumble, "is a hass!" It wasn't New Zealand Jaw that Mr. Bumble referred to —New Zealand in hie time was of very small account; perhaps he'd never even heard of it. Still, the remark that Dickens immortalised is a truism that applies to all time and to all countries. Perhaps one of the most blatant legal anomalies that affects Auckland is furnished by the regulations that decide who is entitled to vote hi the municipal elections. The lawhas been made with the object of restricting local franchise rights to those who have some interest in "the city, yet it can be so evaded that the vote that places the City Fathers on their temporary pedestals practically amounts to manhood suffrage. One does not need even the intelligence of a Bumble to recognise such a, law as a "htiss" of the primest quality. The next election is only a few weeks off, and do the authorities what they will to enforce the spirit of the regulations, nothing can prevent thousands voting whose names have no right on the roll. Those really entitled to a place on the District Electors' Roll, under which all municipal elections and poll 3 are conducted, are persons possessing a freehold qualification of a capital value of not less than £25, a ratepayers' qualification, or a residential qualification. Voters under the first two classes are (generally bona-fide—tn the first case, always; but the residential qualification enables many who were, never intended to have a say in the affairs of the city to become electors. Comparatively few people are enrolled under the freehold class, either because tliP existence of this qualification is not sufficiently well known, or else because their names appear as ratepayers. Voters in the latter class are compiled from the valuation roll of the ratable property, which is made up annually by the City ■Valuer. To call a man a ratepayer, however, is by no means the same thing as accusing him of paying his rates and taxes. It simply means that lie is an occupier of any property under a tenancy of not less than three months. Though his gas and water be cut off, and he spends his days dodging municipal collectors, his right to vote remains until a "moonlight flit" or a commitment order causes him to linally abandon hie premises for better or worse. A ratepayer, however, has only one vote no matter how many ratable properties he may possess, but in the case of a bank, a company or firm, co-part-ners, or joint-tenants, one of the persons interested may be nominated to be entered as ratepayers in respect of such property. This provision is often used for the purpose of placing on the roll quite a large number of the employees of a limited liability company, bo that it is possible for a company to obtain in this way more than the one vote it is entitled to. The third qualification enables, in the words of the law, any tenant or subtenant of the whole or any portion. of any hous* or other building to be enrblled," pro-iaing he pays"'if"rent of"not less than f.'O per year and has been in occupation not less than three months. It is under this residential qualification that the rolls become overburdened with claims for votes which ought never to be made; but, being made, have to be admitted, owing to the careless wording of the law and the breadth of interpretation that can be put on it. Not only docs the bona-fide householder become .enrolled, but every person* who wishes to add his voice to the election forces makes an arrangement whereby he pays a weekly sum as "rent" for the apartment lie occupies, thereby becoming a subtenant with a residential qaulification. Instances are known to the municipal authorities in which the servants have claimed a vote in respect of Uieir bed-rooms, whilst it is no uncommon occurrence for a lodger in a boardinghouse to put in an application for enrolment. In other cases all the adult members of a family have been put on the voters' list, as the children declared that they paid rent to their parents for the portions of their home they occupied. Where the opportunities of enrolment are so numerous and it is so easy to obtain a vote, great carelessness is often shown in filling up the claims. Indeed it might be said that in the majority of cases the claims are filled in by rival canvassers, whose chief anxiety is to enrol as many as possible. A careless lodgeri for instance, will declare the whole rent of the house as the sum paid by him for his room, and cases often occur in which tenants are unable to give the names of their landlords. In fact, in nine cases out of ten, the serious •nature of the declaration is altogether lost sight of, and claims are made with a lack of care that it would need a few prosecutions for making false declarations to cure. Under the circumstances the task of checking the claims is no light one, but the reflations governing the elections Co still further, and the legal "hass" blunders so deeply into the mire of utter uselessness that such checking may be altogether evaded by the voter whose, credentials would not bear examination. The roll finally closes on the 14th day of the month at the end of which the elections take place. Now, the law requires the town clerks and the various boroughs to enrol every person who makes a claim., even though such names may be subsequently struck off, so that if claims are as if often the case, till the last moment, it becomes absolutely impossible to make inquiries into the claimant's bona-fides in the short time remaining. Tn larpe cities the difficulty of ensuring an absolutely pure roll is greatly increased by the number of changes of address that occur without being notified to the municipal authorities. Advertisements are inserted at the beginning of each year pressing the public to pay attention to this feature of compiling the roll, but the responses are few and far between. Iti fact, the only interest taken in the roll appears to 'be at the time of the election, when it is of course, too late to make any corrections. Various suggestions have been made whereby the anomalies and difficulties reveaVd under the present system might be overcome. If the roll was made an annual one for instance, and all voters wer-e required to register their qualifications within a stated period of the year, the authorities would at least have "time! to check the list, and there would be no danger of persons changing their addresses and getting enrolled twice, as has happened under the existing circumstances. The came effect would follow the issue of "electoral rights" whiob r would also involve annual registration,

but whether:: or n» tagee"alterations ate adopted it is time something was done to make the regulations carry out the purpose for which they were-originally framed. - It is not the voter who is to ' blame so'much as-the canvasser. Quite a large S number of people care nothing whether they add their opinion to that of other ■ electors or no. The voter in March is an 'apathetic article compared -with the 1 frenzied partizan of election night at the ' end of April. In fact, the excited crowds one sees waiting for the Tesult of the polls are often those who have no votes ■ of their own. But even the mildest man ' may be stirred by the forceful party ' canvasser to seek a vote. The result is ; that, with th - e law standing as' it doee, ' not only does the ratepaying. pater- , ' familias get the franchise he is entitled 1 to, but his wife and his children, his man-servant and his maid-servant, and if ' not his cattle at anyrate the stranger ' that is within his gates may all con- ■ trive to get their names duly registered ■ ■ on the municipal rolls. ■ ,

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MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS. Auckland Star, Volume XL, Issue 77, 31 March 1909

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