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Anyone old enough to remember the era before television doesn't need to be told that it utterly altered the nature of political campaigning.

Politicians once touted for votes at crowded town-hall meetings, where issues were debated, hotly and in detail. But the rise of television in the 1960s ushered in the era in which appearance became more importance than substance.

Ever since the silver-tongued David Lange slaughtered Robert Muldoon in television debates before the 1984 snap election, campaigns conducted in the glare of television lights have regularly, and often disapprovingly, been described as "presidential".

This year's general election looks like marking another sea change in the political process as electoral law comes to grips with the impact of the so-called social media - in particular Facebook, Twitter and blogs.

The Electoral Commission this week warned that Twitter and Facebook users face fines of up to $20,000 if they use their accounts to campaign on election day.

Material posted on social media websites is covered by the same strict rules against electioneering on election days that require electoral hopefuls to clear-fell their forests of hoardings before sunrise on polling day and ban Saturday newspapers from covering an election on the day it occurs.

But in treating social media in the same way as election hoardings or news stories, the law fails to acknowledge the seismic change technology has wrought on the landscape. Mr Peden says that somebody tweeting on election day "to influence how somebody votes" will be breaching the Electoral Act. But Labour MP Labour Party MP Chris Hipkins points out that a tweet or Facebook post made before election day, but quoted or replied to on the day, could imperil the person who made the original comment.

Matters become even sillier when you consider that websites with campaign material are (and may be) left up on election day - but it is illegal to add material or advertise the site.

Mr Peden deserves no criticism as an individual; he simply applies the law. But to say, as he does, that he "senses" that New Zealanders "like campaign-free election days" is a long way from being good enough.

When the National-led Government repealed Labour's Electoral Finance Act in 2009, and replaced it with amendments to the existing Electoral Act, it retained - and refined - an exemption for electronic publication of "personal political views" for which no one was being paid: thus the blandishments of PR mavens come under the purview of the law governing election advertising, but a blogger does not.

It is well past time that the laws governing the expressions of opinion on election day were similarly revisited. The policy thinking that lies behind such laws takes a pen-and-ink view of a cyberworld environment.

It also - and this is a key point - takes a rather patronising view of the credulity of the average voter. The sheer volume of online opinion has made the cybersavvy into sophisticated and discriminating consumers of opinion.

The same argument holds true for what online commentators are fond of calling the mainstream media. There is no good reason for banning the reporting of legitimate political news that might be of enormous importance to an election just because the clock has ticked over from election eve to election day. Reportage on election day does not have a more corrupting influence on democracy than it would have the day before, particularly when old news is, quite legally, read long after it is posted.

In short, restrictions on political coverage one day every three years make no sense in a country that purports to have a free press and politicians who should be called to account. There is a legitimate argument for creating an ad-free zone around polling stations and for banning the wearing of party T-shirts or rosettes in the draughty school halls where the votes are cast.

But the day is past when voters need, want or are entitled to expect, one day in a thousand, protection from ideas that are legitimate on any other day.