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Scrapping of online voting trial a 'blow to democracy'

20 Apr 16

The Government’s announcement yesterday that the planned online voting trials for this year’s local body elections have been scrapped are not sitting well with several councils.

Associate Local Government Minister Louise Upston said yesterday the trials will not proceed as more work is required to ensure a trial meets public and government expectations.

Wellington’s Deputy Mayor Justin Lester says the cancellation of the online voting trial proposed for this year’s local body elections is disappointing, and a lost opportunity.

“Clearly we’re disappointed given the amount of work Wellington City Council and the other participating councils have put in to the exercise so far,” Lester says.

Lester is chair of Wellington City Council’s Governance, Finance and Planning Committee.

“In the interests of increasing voter turnout we were hoping we’d get the trial across the line for the local elections this October,” he explains.

“But I can also understand the reasons for the cancellation – until everyone is confident we have a hack-proof, bullet-proof online system in place, we can’t go ahead,” Lester adds.

“I urge the Government, however, to continue efforts to make online voting a reality – both at national and local level – as soon as possible.”

Porirua City Council shares Lester’s sentiment, saying the decision is a blow to local democracy.

Porirua Mayor Nick Leggett says he's “gutted” Cabinet has decided not to go ahead with the trial.

“Voter turn-out is declining and we believe offering a modern, accessible, efficient, digital option to voters is an important and obvious step in turning that around, " explains Leggett.

 "That's why our Council has led the charge on e-voting for a number of years,” he says.

Leggett says Porirua is a young city with a high proportion of voters who relate to online communities.

“The ease, access and convenience of voting online not only benefits modern lifestyles but can also improve participation for overseas voters,” he says.

“We need to cater to them and future generations to allow them to engage with democracy on their terms. The internet is an integral part of young people’s lives and if we want them to vote we need to make the process quicker and easier,” Leggett explains.

“Online voting provides opportunities to make voting simpler and more accurate, by notifying voters if they have incorrectly completed a voting document.

“It also helps electors who currently have issues voting under the postal system,” he says.

Leggett says the decision was short sighted.

“This short-sighted decision is a blow to local democracy by people clearly struggling to adapt to the digital era.

“In a handful of years, the fact a New Zealand government rejected e-voting in 2016 will have people scratching their heads,” he says.

“This baffling decision gives new meaning to the term no-brainer.”

Leggett says the work and cost put in by Porirua and other councils who put themselves up to take part in the trial has been a wasted effort.

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