AS I write this, the United States Government is in the process of shutting down its non-essential services. This has, so far, mostly resulted in a lot of websites not loading and a lot of Twitter accounts saying goodbye, for now.
These services are by definition "non-essential", but there's nothing like an error page to really bring home the reality of a situation.
It got me thinking - we interact with the Government a fair bit online these days. You can file your tax return online. You can stream live video of Parliament, or pore over the details of a new bill. But you can't actually vote there, not yet.
On the face of it, online voting makes a lot of sense. We had the worst voting turnout in at least a century last general election, with only 69 per cent of those eligible making the effort to vote. Those who don't vote are likely to be young people, who are used to conducting much of their lives online. Furthermore, while not voting is fairly lazy if you just can't be screwed walking to the local school, many in rural areas have to drive a fair bit to a polling station, and those who work on the day have to sort out complicated special votes.
We wouldn't quite be the first either. Switzerland allows online voting for their frequent referendums online, and Estonia allows online voting in the runup to their election day. Many smaller-scale elections have recently moved online too - I just voted in my student union election without putting any pants on.
Accordingly, the Government is beginning work on online- voting, with trials set to begin during the 2016 local body elections. Simulated trials have already begun with this year's local body, with a group of ineligible children casting non- counted test votes.
Local body elections generally have very low turnout, and also have much lower stakes than national elections, so it makes sense to start there.
The Minister of Justice, Judith Collins, is moving to allow online voter-enrolment. She told me this "responds to New Zealanders' expectations that they will be able to complete most of their transactions with Government electronically".
Green MP Holly Walker supports the move, but cautions that it isn't a silver bullet with which to fix voter turnout. "People kind of see online voting as this panacea to turnout, and it's not true."
Walker understands some trepidation about online voting too - the Green Party doesn't have an official policy on the issue.
"A lot of the problems can be solved by everyone understanding the technology and the ironing out of some technical concerns, but I do think there are some legitimate concerns."
After all, what do you do if the whole system crashes? Simply running the election again will cause even greater turnout issues and will greatly skew the result of an election.
It's hard for a technology journalist to say, but with some things, a paper and pen still win out.
- © Fairfax NZ News