Exercising your vote just got easier - but no less important

PAUL BARLOW
Last updated 15:20 23/06/2014

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OPINION: Right now a very small election is happening that should be watched very carefully because it's outcome will have a long-lasting effect on Hamilton - well, it should anyway. It's the election for the Wel Energy trust board.

As a board, it does a lot of great work in the Hamilton community. A large chunk of the profits from managing the lines goes towards various community groups, another larger chunk of it goes towards rebates. An abatement on the power bill in winter is never going to be unpopular.

This year we have 11 candidates running for the trust - a mix of a group already there who, on the whole, have been doing a great job, and a few others who want to add to that mix. There's a few familiar faces, like Mark Bunting, and a few newcomers like Ree Varcoe. We have the chance to have a say about the city they create through the sort of philanthropic work they will do as a trust.

Now I'm not going to suggest who to vote for, but I will suggest having a look over the candidates and having your say, because that's where this election really has its impact on Hamilton's future - and because this is the only major election that uses an online poll, coupled with traditional postal ballots, to get the result.

In a world before the internet, smartphones and Google Glass, postal ballot was a great way to vote. It was private but could be done at the voter's pace in their own home, and sending and receiving snail mail was just what we did. Now though we live in a world of instant gratification, mass movement of information and a far faster-paced expected turnaround of information. Online voting is a part of that.

And we're ready for it as a city and a society. We showed that during the census, when two-thirds of the forms were filled out online. During the last local body election, which was also a postal ballot, I worked on the Pro-STV campaign and a lot of the feedback was that an online system would be faster, fairer and make a change of voting to something more representative, a lot less daunting.

As a system it still only works when it's run in tandem with traditional voting methods, because not everyone wants to or has access to vote online, or wants to take the time to vote the old-fashioned way - and that's what this election is doing.

The online polling system, though, takes less than five minutes. Log in with your code, tick the boxes of the candidates: done. It seems ridiculously easy; what am I saying, it is ridiculously easy. They've used this system twice now and it's worked for them. Which is why it should be seriously considered for the next local body election.

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A quick, easy system that doesn't involve a lot of stress or fiddling with documents will be a great way to increase voter turn out. It's not revolutionary and we now have empirical proof that Hamiltonians know how to use the internet for this purpose.

The only people who should be against it would be those most likely to dislike the change a higher voter turnout often brings -sitting councillors.

To motivate voters, it's not unusual to hear about the sacrifices made during war to protect freedoms but I think people may be forgetting the battle Wel Energy Trust went through to be able to do so much good for Hamilton. The Government had split the shares from the lines company in three and a faceless American corporation was buying up shares from small shareholders.

The profits from our power went straight to the USA. There was a very long, very hard-fought public battle to keep the profits and the shares local. In the end, though, Hamilton was the winner.

Because of that hard-fought battle, the Kiwi resistance to asset sales and the way we like to work together to help our community, the local community has had the benefit of the trust and its grants for a very long time. We've become complacent about how hard we fought for them, and the mere suggestion of them being cut is widely unpopular.

This is why it's important to vote - but how you physically vote is just as important, because it can send a message about the future of engaging in democracy in Hamilton.

- Waikato Times

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