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Online voting trial ‘too limited’

Wednesday, August 6, 2014
Online voting trial ‘too limited’

The Government’s Online Voting Working Party recommendation to trial e-voting in the 2016 local body elections will disappoint those hoping online voting will be fully in place that year, says Massey University local government specialist Associate Professor Christine Cheyne.

Dr Cheyne welcomes the report’s release this week for highlighting the importance of online voting but is disappointed and surprised it is limited to a trial only.

The working party was set up following concerns about the low turnout in last year’s local body elections.

“The lack of progress following the 2010 Parliamentary select committee recommendation to consider a trial of online voting in 2013 was very disappointing and there have been mounting calls for access to e-voting,” Dr Cheyne says.

“New Zealand has a high uptake of digital technologies so there is likely to be strong interest in e-voting,” says Dr Cheyne, from the School of People, Environment and Planning. “Key sector organisations, such as the Society of Local Government Managers, have argued that electronic voting may be a catalyst to re-engage younger voters.

“The working party similarly recognises that easy-to-use online voting in conjunction with other initiatives could educate and engage New Zealanders, make local elections more accessible and help boost voter turnout in the medium or long-term. I agree.”

She says the report released this week highlights the importance of online voting in local elections, and recognises it as “feasible and desirable.”

“Unfortunately, the online voting working party’s recommendation to proceed only with a trial in 2016 is very disappointing and surprising given the evidence of successful implementation elsewhere, including in Australia.” She says online voting could be trialled prior to 2016 in a mock election or actual by-election.

She also questioned whether giving communities and councils flexibility to decide to have online voting would be beneficial.

“E-voting should be an option available to everyone. If some people prefer not to use that method of voting, that is fine. It is their choice. If a council or a community decide that some should not have that choice, we are likely to see further disengagement.”

She wondered why New Zealand was slow to embrace online voting when it has been successfully implemented in local and parliamentary elections in many countries for well over a decade.

“Much greater priority needs to be given to ensuring online voting is a choice alongside other voting methods.
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“It’s important that our electoral systems innovate and keep up with the pace of technological change in our wider society – especially for those groups that are heavy users of technology.

“Many people who are less likely to vote are certainly deterred by traditional voting methods, especially postal voting. Online voting on its own won’t be sufficient to mobilise those who are under-represented in voting, but it is necessary to modernise elections if we want to increase participation in our democratic processes.”

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