Politics

Online voting back on the agenda

Online voting could feature at the next local council elections, but local bodies want the Government to share the costs after an earlier trial was axed. Shane Cowlishaw reports.

Residents could soon be casting their council votes online, with a scuppered trial back on the agenda.

Plans to allow people to cast their vote through the internet during the 2016 local government elections were canned at the last minute due to security concerns.

It left the eight councils that had expressed interest in the trial fuming after they contributed resources and funding to get the system ready in time.

The work they had done was not enough to allay the fears of the Department of Internal Affairs and the National-led government, who announced that the trial would not be authorised because final security testing was still to be completed.

Now it appears the idea is being resurrected, with Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta being briefed on funding options for a 2019 trial.

“It will hopefully engage a generation of potential voters who frankly don’t know what a letter is."

A financial contribution from central government will be a welcome sweetener for many councils and companies involved in the previously aborted trial.

Dave Cull, president of Local Government New Zealand, said he had passed on the concerns to the Minister and made clear how urgent it was to begin work on a second trial.

“We were very disappointed as were many of our members. Some of them had invested significant resources and money into the trial and it was pulled at the last minute.”

Cull said there was little choice but to shift voting online to cater for a younger generation.

The country’s failing postal system could also no longer be relied on, as was demonstrated in the recent Hastings-Havelock North by-election where more than 800 votes arrived too late to be counted, he said.

“It’s not the silver bullet that means voting proportions will jump from 50 percent to 95, but it is seen as absolutely essential if we are going to arrest the decline in voting that’s happening.

“It will hopefully engage a generation of potential voters who frankly don’t know what a letter is. Another thing to keep in mind - given the state of the postal system - by 2019 and certainly by 2022 it’s doubtful our postal system is up to the task.”

Politicians need to ‘get out of the way’

There is some cautiousness about giving the green light for a second trial.

Christchurch company Electionz.com was heavily involved and set to provide the voting system, but managing director Steve Kilpatrick said the company had made it clear they would have to be convinced that the Government was serious before it committed again.

The cancellation had cost the company financially and was hugely disappointing, Kilpatrick said.

“It would be good for them to have some skin in the game and contribute or why else would other councils want to be part of it?”

Elecionz.com had informed agencies in November 2015 that final testing was scheduled for April/May the following year, but in February the “pin was pulled”.

“We think it’s got good value and good cause to be an option for the public and it’s really a matter for the politicians to get out of the way,” he said.

One of the councils that had an agreement with Electionz.com was Wellington City Council, who were set to spend $100,000 on the system.

Despite the council's experience at the last election, the city’s mayor, Justin Lester, said there was no option but to give it another go as online voting would have to be adopted eventually.

"We're keen. There's no other option, you saw that with the census. Online is the future, and the now."

WCC lost money in the aborted trial, and Lester said he believed the Government should provide some funding for next year’s trial.

“People will benefit from this, central government will benefit from this.

“It would be good for them to have some skin in the game and contribute or why else would other councils want to be part of it?”

Mahuta did not respond to interview requests.

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