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Temperance and Prohibition in New Zealand

Returning Officers

Returning Officers

The Poll of 1896: The returning officer for Auckland first declared that 5,376 persons voted for No-License, and then issued an amended return reducing the total to 4,783. No explanation was given as to the cause of this reduction.

The Wellington Evening Press of February 19, of that year, referring to a Wellington petition for a recount, remarked ‘that there were many blunders and irregularities in the election is now clear.’

In one booth in Otago a scrutineer picked up a pile of papers which the poll clerk had laid aside as votes for Continuance, and found that no fewer than seven of the twenty were votes for No-License.

In a Northern electorate, the votes from one polling booth were counted in a public house.

In another, a scrutineer disputed the return of fifty voting papers as informal, and on their being recounted, the informal votes were reduced to six.

It was reported in a Southern electorate that a returning officer was found, on the morning of election day, to be in a state of intoxication; and had to be carried to the booth and there placed in his chair, where he fell asleep, and remained in that state until late in the day.

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The Poll of 1899: At a meeting of the Christchurch Prohibition League the following resolution was passed unanimously: ‘This meeting regrets that the recent Local Option polls have shown that some of the returning officers and their deputies still display culpable ignorance of, or inattention to, their duties; and that the manner in which the polls were taken in many places renders it impossible to give effect to the declared wishes of the people.’ The Alliance Report for 1900 states as follows:

‘The real voting strength of the Auckland City No-License Party in 1899 will never be known, as hundreds of electors were disfranchised by the Returning Officer, whose conduct demands the most searching inquiry at the hands of the Government.’

The Poll of 1902: The Alliance Report for 1902–3 states: ‘There were many cases where votes cast for both No-License and Reduction were wilfully or ignorantly counted for Reduction only, and it is probable that in one way or another the wilfulness or incompetency of polling officials has cost us thousands of votes…. The irregularities that the Magistrates considered sufficient to invalidate the Bruce and Newtown polls, and that were alleged to have been committed in other electorates, were, almost without exception, attributable to the polling officials themselves.’

In Newtown, where no proper arrangements had been made for the safe custody of the ballot papers, eleven papers declaring for No-License, put into the ballot box by No-License voters, were tampered with, being afterwards altered to votes for Reduction only by some person who struck out the bottom line.