Critic pans delays in online vote

An online voting working party's recommendation to stay offline for the 2016 local body elections has been described as too timid by Massey University local government commentator Christine Cheyne.

The working group, which included Manawatu District Council chief executive Lorraine Vincent, was set up after the 2013 elections to consider the feasibility of online voting.

Manawatu volunteered to be a trial site in 2016, and that option remains. The working party found online voting was feasible and desirable, but 2016 was too soon to introduce it nationwide.

"Our analysis indicates that a staged approach allows all parties and stakeholders to become familiar with the opportunities and challenges," the working party said in its report.

But Cheyne said by 2016, Estonia would have been using online voting for a decade, and she could not see why New Zealand could not achieve it within two years. "Postponing is unnecessary," said Cheyne.

"It beggars belief that New Zealand cannot implement it in time."

Cheyne was also disappointed with the working party's recommendation that councils and their communities should have a choice about whether to offer online voting.

She said central government should provide the leadership and resources to make online voting happen quickly and nationwide, because the issue was too important to democracy to allow a piecemeal changeover.

Vincent said the working party members would like the process to go faster.

But there was still a great deal of work to do to ensure an online system measured up against four key principles of access, participation, integrity and security.

Vincent said it was vital that people could be confident online voting would be secure and accurate.

The working party said trials in non-binding polls or possibly by-elections before 2016 would be desirable.

Both women said online voting would not solve issues of voter apathy and low turnouts. But it could make it easier for some people, including people with disabilities, to act on their intention to get around to voting if the option was there.

The Palmerston North City Council last year told a parliamentary committee review of low voter turnout that online voting should be the norm for 2016.

But Mayor Jono Naylor said yesterday that accuracy was more important than pace.

"I'm very keen to see it implemented, but what I'm reticent about is making sure it is done in a way people can be confident about."

As the National Party candidate for Palmerston North, he said there should be a central government decision on introducing online voting nationwide, while Labour's Iain Lees-Galloway said local communities should decide.

Lees-Galloway urged the city council to take up the option as soon as possible.

Online voting, and even more usefully, online enrolment, would be excellent for the city's young and mobile population, he said.

Manawatu Standard