11 Dec 2014

Online voting set to be trialled

10:08 am on 11 December 2014

Online voting looks set to be trialled during local body elections in two years time.

The Government had given the nod to a trial involving a limited number of local bodies still to be decided, but ratepayers would have to pick up the expected cost of $8 - 10 million.

There were also technical matters to finalise, such as what standards should be set for technology to be used in online voting, with final decisions due late next year.

Local Government was keen to introduce the option of online voting in 2016, as a way of encouraging voting in the triennial local body elections where turnouts had fallen to below 40 percent.

Some council's such as Nelson City had already opted out of the trial on cost grounds, but the country's largest local body, the Auckland Council, was keen.

Manager of Democracy Services Marguerite Delbet said it was not yet certain whether that would pan out.

"We still need to work with central government on this and see how we could make a trial work in Auckland in practice," she said.

"There's some technical and legal requirements we need to work through"

Associate Minister of Local Government Louise Upston said the Government would oversee technical standards to ensure security and reliability, and public perception of safety was important.

The Government intended that only small number of local bodies would take part in a 2016 trial.

Not all are convinced that online voting, even as an option alongside ballot box or postal voting, would make a big difference.

Massey University senior lecturer Andy Asquith said overseas experience had shown little impact on turnout, even among tech-savvy younger voters.

"Some evidence from overseas shows its older voters shown to use e-voting, so it shows the silver bullet, one-size-fits all approach doesn't work, and that what you might expect to find, you don't find."

Mr Asquith said the only answer to lifting turnout was to make potential voters feel more engaged in the process, and interested in the issues and candidates.

There were also legal issues to sort out, especially if large local bodies such as Auckland Council wanted to trial online voting in only part of the system.

Discussion continues on whether the law allows a local body to treat some of its voters different to others, for example if Auckland was to trial online in only one of its 20 local board areas.

The cabinet was due to consider progress towards the trial in March, with a final decision in November next year.

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