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Don Johnston - On Being Operatons Manager for Mana

don johnstonBy Don Johnston

Don, a Board member of Plimmerton Rotary Club, has been Operations Manager for Mana Electorate for the 2014 election since early July.

The electorate stretches from about Tawa pool up to the southern boundary of Paraparaumu airport, then goes  over the railway line following SH 1 up to Nikau Palms Road (about opposite Lindale) over to Akatarawa Forest and down to Mt. Cecil Road. It consists of 43 Voting Places (VP) and 3 Advance Voting Places (AVP) -probably one of the biggest in the Wellington Region.

At the last Election in 2011 Don worked as the Ohariu Ops Manager’s gopher, then ran an AVP and issued Special Votes on the day. Before coming on board in July he’d heard that Elections generally were a bit of a closed shop in that  only people who had worked on Elections previously were recruited. That was true in some respects as it had to be – experience was invaluable.

He also knew that Elections was just a massive, massive national logistics beast and it was! He reckons he’s still a bit in awe of that but thinks he’s been bitten by the bug! He found all the training he attended “just impressive” and took keen interest in what the Chief Electoral Officer said when he warned everybody to keep the words “judicial recount” in the backs of their minds!

Mana employed 275 people all up and had 250 people work on election day. The HR Manager actually recruited about 295 people (on her own) but they had 18 people pull out in the last week through sickness, funerals, family circumstances etc. That was the most withdrawals of any electorate in NZ! Because many people with full time jobs were being employed, interviewing was largely done at night. Training was also at night from 2 – 17 September.

With regard to the closed shop aspect, some people have been doing the “Elections thing” every 3 years since they were young - quite a few couples were involved – some people actually took taking part of their annual leave to do their stint. Generally if people had done a reasonable job on a previously Election there was every reason to use their experience next time round.  Experience was invaluable.

Don doesn’t think he is sexist, but he’d never in the past had his my life virtually ruled by two very pushy Kiwi sheilas -  Ems and Ersa. EMS is actually the “Elections Management System” that controlled all staff, finance, supplies, special votes, tasks and properties matters. On the other hand ERSA is the Electronic Roll Scrutiny Application - used primarily to scrutinise the electoral roll particularly for dual votes.

Some of the facts and figures – on 19 July Don received and signed for 1200kg (8 large pallets worth) of equipment and supplies – with only a few hours’ notice – not the 24 he was expecting. In late August/ early September 55,000 Mana ballot papers and about 10,000 Te Tai Hauauru ballot papers were received. The end result of all that was - the actual setup in each VP that people would vote in - chairs, tables, ballot boxes, papers, satchels, signs etc. you name it!

Some Rotary members may have voted at the very busy AVP in North City Mall – Don and his wife did and so did David Pine –  he mentioned a number of times just how good it was! That AVP had a Manager and 16 staff rostered on – it opened from 3 September and did 15 days prior to Election Day including late nights and Saturdays. It was the only AVP in NZ that was set up in a mall and it was recognised by our National Office as the busiest AVP in the country. For the first 10 days they easily doubled our estimates but plateaued off a bit in the week before the election but took well over 1400 votes on the late night of Thursday, 18 September. In fact all AVP’s thru the 6 electorates in the Wellington Region took off. In particular Otaki electorate doubled their estimates in all their AVP’s in the libraries in Foxton, Levin, Otaki, Waikanae and Paraparaumu.

The success of the mall AVP created a distinct work buzz that permeated through the whole electorate. Don thinks it was a pretty courageous decision on the part of the Mana Returning Officer to site the AVP actually inside the mall. The RO spent much time adjusting and readjusting figures based on his gut feel. The mall actually did 8600 votes just 165 short of their estimate. Special Votes totalled 1440 nearly 30% more than estimated.

Thank goodness the numbers fell away a bit on Election Day! Only 925 votes were taken at the mall on that day, which was less than half of the estimate.

On EDay Voting Place teams ranged in size from 2 or 3 people up to 6 - 8 (including a manager) for most of the VP’s located primarily at schools. The biggest VP was Raumati Beach School with 14 staff. The VP’s around Aotea Summerset Village, Papakowhai, Paremata, Whitby, Pauatahanui, Mana and Plimmerton were mostly 7 or 8 people.

 On EDay a team of 10 operated at the Mall with a top rated manager who was only transferred into the role about 5 days before due to unavailability of the previous manager.  3 of the mall advance team there backed up that day. However the queues there were such that 2 extra people had to train up on the day and they were thrown into the breech at lunch time. Most of the managers started at 0730 or 0800 and worked through the day with most coming back to HQ about 9.30 to 11 pm at night. The Mall Manager came back at 11.45pm. The look on most Managers faces indicated that they’d had a pretty tiring day and they were quite jiggered!

Some facts and figures. Total votes cast in NZ were 2,446,279 and there were 10,861 informal votes and 29,798 disallowed votes - total of 40,659.

In Mana total votes were 37,418, with votes allowed - 36,793. Votes allowed for party only were 548. Special votes disallowed were 625.

Mana electorate was actually 7th highest electorate in NZ for voter turnout at 82.29%. Wellington Central headed the country with 84.6% followed by Selwyn 84.45%, Ohariu on 83.74% Rongotai on 83.63%, Otaki on 83.10% Helensville on 82.87% then Mana.

Don’s major role for the 10 days after the election was Special Vote Processing Manager and the task was quite, quite massive – specials totalled 5273 with 2570 being received from other electorates including 594 from overseas. In addition 2076 SV’s were couriered to other electorates.

A couple of interesting facts - of the 625 disallowed votes, only 3 were dual votes, but 548 votes were for Party Vote only. The combined total of those 2 figures is 1173, which means that those people in Mana voted incorrectly in some way. The reason the votes were disallowed was that people were just not on any roll anywhere. 75% of those disallowed votes were cast on EDay.

 Don thinks that those people whose votes were disallowed for not being on a roll should be prosecuted. So that’s a total of 29,798 people from around the country who failed to register which is compulsory.

election signDon believes it’s sad - but no real surprise because in the 15 days prior to the election hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of voter registrations were processed by the electorate through to Registrar of Electors. Thousands of people were not registered on rolls.

It’s sad - because in Mana there are quite a number of 3 and 4 person families plus numerous couples who thought they have voted but their votes don’t count.

It’s sad - because it confirmed to Don that there are just too many people in this country who are just plain ignorant with their knowledge about Elections. He saw many of the staff particularly in both the Mall Advance Voting Place and the VP trying to educate voters before they voted.

One of Don’s viewpoints is that there should be much more emphasis on education about Civics particularly in schools. He saw the same thing with the Census – just plain ignorance of what a census is all about and some people just didn’t have a clue that it was compulsory. Registering to vote is also compulsory. Prosecuting people may resolve some of that ignorance.

The other viewpoint is that considering the millions spent on elections every 3 years (and he actually doesn’t know how many millions) NZ should be having an election every 4 or 5 years.

So, Mana Electorate has got 3 MP’s in Parliament  – go lobby your MP to get the electoral cycle changed to every 4 or 5 years.


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