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Online voting on council agenda

Opinion Piece

On Thursday we have a Future Tairawhiti meeting starting at 9am. If there are items on the agenda that are of interest to you, feel free to pop in and listen to the debate, or alternatively you can listen to us via livestream on the GDC website.

We will discuss national planning standards, take a look at the “Our Land 2018” report and there will be an update on the Titirangi summit redevelopment.

The bulk of the agenda is made up of a paper discussing the option for us to trial online voting in the 2019 local body elections. We received a similar paper in 2015, but as we had to cover the unbudgeted cost of $50,000 to take part in the trial, we decided against it. We have budgeted to take part this time around, so we will need to get our ducks in a row fast if we plan to go ahead, as 2019 is just around the corner!

You might ask, why bother with online voting? The recent Census online voting received a lot of negative press and I personally heard of some families who never received their Census papers (even after ringing the 0800 number twice), and then families who were sent out several sets of paperwork. A thorough audit of the process will let us know how successful it was. I am sure the Census team have learned a lot and services will be streamlined for future engagements.

There has been a push from Local Government New Zealand to get online voting tested and part of our voting system.

Online voting is supplementary to postal (paper) voting and it is not intended to replace current voting methods. You will still receive your voting papers in the mail (with online user codes included), and you will have the option to send your vote in by return mail but you will also have the option to log in online and cast your vote that way.

There will be two voting methods, but you will only be able to cast your vote once. You can decide what voting system suits your needs and vote accordingly.

Online voting is not expected to be the silver bullet and suddenly engage younger voters or substantially increase voter turnout, but it is seen as the way of the future. It will also be useful for people who are abroad during the voting period — just cast your vote online.

Some of the disadvantages of online voting are a concern in the community about online security, possible hacking or technology failure. Online voting has been trialled selectively worldwide with some countries adopting it, but several countries deciding not to proceed.

The Online Voting Working Party made several recommendations in their 2015 report. They concluded that in order for online voting to be trialled successfully, it should be made available as an additional option alongside postal voting — and voters should be able to use their own personal devices to vote, without any additional software requirements or the need to register online to vote. They also stressed that online voters must be able to access, online, the same degree of information about candidates as postal voters do with hard-copy documents.

Do you think our community is ready to give this a go? At this stage, councillors will consider whether to support online voting in principle, as legislation is still not finalised. For a final sign-off, costs need to be acceptable and risks need to be clearly identified and appropriately managed.