Human error is being blamed for the TECT election blunder where 10,000 election packs were sent to old or incorrect addresses.
An error in setting the parameters in establishing the TECT election voter database resulted in the error, estimated to cost about $80,000.
TrustPower spokesman Graeme Purches says the search parameters used when separating eligible voters from the company’s everyday database had not been broad enough.
“It was just a human error, simple as that. It was for a purpose that we don’t normally use it for.
“It involves going into the system and setting a bunch of parameters. The person who did it didn’t set the parameters correctly and then the thing wasn’t tested.
“This is a request that happens once every two years, so somebody was doing something they don’t normally do as part of their job and, unfortunately, we didn’t have the checks and balances in place to make sure it was done absolutely correctly.
“Human errors happen unfortunately. It’s hugely unfortunate, but we’re picking up the cost of it.”
Graeme is unsure how much the mistake will cost, but says it “is just another business expense”.
No thought had been given to compensating candidates, who have already spent money promoting their campaigns, says Graeme.
“The same candidates are still standing for the same election so advertising money is not lost.”
Independent returning officer Warwick Lampp, of electionz.com Limited, estimates the cost, including reprinting the packs, postage, paying for public notices and checking the data will cost about $80,000.
TECT owns 33 per cent of TrustPower, meaning that the 53,500 customers who either did not receive their packs, or received packs that are now void, will share in footing the bill.
Warwick says the mistake consisted of a mixture of addresses that were either wrong or missing components.
For instance, packs that were supposed to be sent to an address marked by a number and a letter were instead sent to the house represented by just the number.
Warwick says the mistake is considered “common”, but not on this scale.
A total of 430 packs have been returned within three days – considerably more than the roughly 100 which had been returned in each of the previous three elections.
Still, 100 more internet returns had been received than during the last election two years ago.
In the original media release sent last night, Warwick noted the importance of protecting the “integrity of the democratic process”.
“As I cannot be assured that all electors have received their voting papers, I have taken this action to remedy the situation effective immediately.”
TECT chairman Michael Cooney echoed that sentiment and applauded Warwick for acting as swiftly as he did.
TECT candidate Mary Dillon describes the recall as unfortunate, but says it is necessary for all eligible voters to have access to materials to participate in the democratic process.
“I was one of the people who didn’t get my voting papers, which has a certain irony about it if you like.
“So I rang them when they hadn’t arrived and said ‘what gives’, and they looked up the old box number that I haven’t had in years.
“It’s an entirely unfortunate thing that has happened, but people have put up their hands and said ‘look we’ve had a mistake and this is what we need to do about it’.”
“These things happen, nobody wanted this to happen.
“They’ve done the right thing. They’ve pulled the plug as soon as they found something was wrong.”
Mary believes the mistake might improve voter turnout.
“Given how traditionally low the vote is maybe an incident like this will stimulate people a bit more in the election process.
“It [traditional voter turnout] is incredibly low – it really is the stuff of very basic democracy isn’t it? It’s to actually respond to those things and say ‘actually, we are part of this community, we have a chance to provide some direction to it’. So why not use it?”
Mary says the mistake will bring two costs – the cost of resending the voting papers, as well as that incurred by candidates who had already spent money on their campaigns.
The first will be footed by TrustPower, but Mary believes a conversation needs to be had around funds already spent by candidates.
Ron Chamberlain is another of the 23 candidates standing for the three vacancies on the trust.
He says he struggles to comprehend how a mistake of such magnitude could be allowed to happen.
He wonders what message customers will derive from the “on again, off again, on again, TECT elections fiasco”.
“How could the people at the helm get it so wrong, and have they been there too long? It will take a large sum of money to try and fix the problem,” says Ron.
“Where will the money come from, and who will lose, the customer or the community grant to someone? When was the last time one heard of a large organisation having this type of problem? Ten thousand consumers have old or incorrect postal addresses, makes one wonder how they paid for their power.
“New voter packs will be sent to customers, apart from that everything is good. It’s not easy being a TECT candidate with the above to deal with.”
All votes already cast will be set aside and destroyed, and those who have yet to return their papers are being instructed to do the same.
New voter packs, to be designed to look markedly different than the originals, will be reissued on Thursday, July 26, with voting now closing at midday on Friday, August 17, 2012.