An allegation of voting fraud in Otāhuhu during Auckland’s local body election leads to a demand the mayor front up with evidence
Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown says gathering up of ballot papers and multiple voting was “common in South Auckland” during last October’s elections, and claims to have video evidence to back it up.
But city politicians say he has provided nothing to back up the claim and accused him of picking on southern voters.
Brown’s claim, in a council debate over postal voting vs setting up booths for the 2025 election, was rejected by others around the council table, with Deputy Mayor Desley Simpson trying to shut down his allegation as objections, including from Manukau councillor Lotu Fuli, rose.
Brown reacted by pressing on: “Oh well, we have got video of them in Otahuhu.”
As Simpson tried to intervene “Ahem… hey, hey, hey, hey,” trying to move on from Brown’s claim and then attempting to hold a vote to end the debate, Brown said: “I come from there, and so I’m criticising myself.”
The mayor was arguing against postal voting and for a restoration of walk-in booths for the next council election. “There are things that happen with postal voting. There are people who gather up whole areas of postal votes and … vote. And that’s common in South Auckland.”
However if people had to appear in person it would stop that activity. “If they have to show up, they have to show up. You’d have to show up as a voter.”
He said another issue was at postal boxes where “a whole lot of letters are biffed out – people collect them and vote.”
“Why not just have booth voting, and it’s a hell of a lot cheaper and the country survived on it for years and years. Postal voting is bloody expensive and pisses people off. Booth voting is infinitely cheaper. Postal voting has lots of problems because people do not live where they say they live.”
Brown’s claim of ballot gathering and unlawful voting – and singling out of South Auckland – have been criticised by his opponent for the mayoralty, Efeso Collins, who was a councillor for Manukau ward until 2022.
“That’s just very hard to believe. I’ve been out in South Auckland for years – and I’ve seen voting papers on the ground under letter boxes sometimes but never, once, have I seen people gather them up.
“There’s been accusations every so often but not once has there been evidence.”
He challenged Brown’s claim to have seen ballot gathering happening last year. “You would have to provide the proof for me to believe it,” he said, claiming Brown was once again picking on Otāhuhu.
The mayor’s office did not respond to Newsroom’s request to provide information to back up his vote-stuffing claim, or whether he would provide any video evidence for public scrutiny.
Collins, who lived in Otāhuhu, said no such claim had been made publicly or to his knowledge to officials during the mayoral and council election campaign.
“I’m keen to get that stuff verified, because it’s a bit of a low blow to this community.”
During the campaign Brown said he owned a bar in Otāhuhu and was on the local business association.
Councillor Fuli told Newsroom on Saturday she had objected to Brown’s claims because “I didn’t think his comment was appropriate or in any way accurate but the mayor continued to double down on his allegations.
“I also join those that are calling for him to either ‘put up or shut up’ if he does have any video footage as he claimed.”
Councillor Angela Dalton of the Manurewa ward, said Brown’s claims were seldom substantiated.
“The mayor does claim to know what the South wants but it rarely aligns with what the councillors from the South hear from our residents,” she told Newsroom.
“I have never seen any evidence of ballots being gathered or tampered with.”
And she explained why she hadn’t bothered to push Brown on his claim.
“I haven’t sought further information from the mayor as his flip comments are often an attempt at humour at the expense of others and rarely substantiated.”
After his allegations during the voting system debate, Councillor Julie Fairey of the Albert-Eden Puketāpapa ward said, pithily, that she looked forward to a review of the systems to be used – and “hopefully some sparkling anecdotes and witty jokes about voting.”
Brown’s stated reasons for opposing postal voting received no specific backing from councillors. But several urged a return to in-booth voting as a way of increasing certainty and turnout.
Shane Henderson, of Waitakere, said “postal voting sucks, and I’ve got a rant about it.”:
Lotu Fuli said she could sense councillors supported a change, which needed assessing. “I would love to have digital in there but I understand that’s out of the scope.
“But when turnout is 34 or 35 percent, that’s a threat to democracy.”
North Shore’s Richard Hills reminded his colleagues that the final days of booth voting had seen turnouts as low as 14 percent in some councils, and without the mailed out voting papers, he questioned how voters would gain detailed information on candidates before making their choice at a booth.
John Watson said of the four main cities, Auckland had the steepest fall in turnout from 2010 to 2022 (from 51 percent for the first Super City election to 35 percent last October). “There’s a dynamic going on in Auckland that’s a bit more concerning than other cities in New Zealand.”
The mayor offered a reason for Wellington’s higher relative voter turnout. “In Wellington, that’s the most interesting thing they can do.”
A joint group of Auckland councillors and local board members will now consider postal, booth or a mix of both types of voting for the 2025 election.