Time is running out for go-ahead for online voting trials

Postal voting looks set to stay for this year's council elections.
ROBERT CHARLES/FAIRFAX NZ

Postal voting looks set to stay for this year's council elections.

Online voting trials are looking increasingly unlikely to take place at October's local body elections in Palmerston North, Whanganui and six other centres.

The Department of Internal Affairs will only say a decision is expected to be announced "shortly".

But at least one Palmerston North City councillor is concerned that with six months to go, time is running out.

The council has set aside $100,000 in the budget included in its proposed Annual Plan that is out for consultation.

Cr Aleisha Rutherford, who pushed for Palmerston North to sign up for the online trial, said councillors were telling residents who asked in discussions about the Annual Plan that it was "highly unlikely" the money would be spent.

"Nothing is official, but it's really disappointing. 

"It's been left so late, I would be surprised if it could go ahead now."

She said it would have been a good opportunity for Palmerston North to show some leadership.

It would have tied in well with Local Government New Zealand's campaign to increase voter turnout.

Mayor Grant Smith, however, said hope remained that the trial would go ahead, and if councillors were telling people it might not happen they were expressing their own opinion, not the council's.

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Massey University local government commentator Christine Cheyne said she had been concerned by the lack of assurances coming from the Government that would have enabled councils to plan with confidence.

"It is disappointing the Government has been so tardy about something that has been suggested for quite some time."

There seemed to be a lack of resourcing and no sense of urgency, making it very challenging for councils that had been prepared to trial online voting.

If the trials were to be abandoned, that should have been signalled earlier.

"The uncertainty is very regrettable."

Cheyne said it appeared an opportunity would be lost to invest in technology that could help arrest the downward slide in voter turnout.

Without the online option, she was particularly concerned that young voters, most of whom rarely, if ever, posted a letter, would be less likely to vote.

That was worrying because young people who did not vote the first time they were eligible tended to form a habit and might never exercise their right to vote in future.

 

 - Stuff

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