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Will online voting solve the turnout problem

Written By: - Date published: 12:52 pm, October 8th, 2019 - 38 comments
Categories: auckland supercity, democratic participation, elections, local body elections, supercity, vote smart - Tags:

As at yesterday Auckland Council was reporting that 17% of electors had voted.

This is not an Auckland only problem, throughout the country return rates are reported to be low.

And questions are being asked about the cause, and what the solution may be.

My personal belief is that our severely compromised postal system is a large part of the problem.

And it was predictable. The school trustee election experience earlier this year provided a jarring run up to what is an important exercise of our democratic rights.

From Simon Collins in the Herald from June of this year:

School principals are livid over delays in delivering Board of Trustees ballot papers with one saying she was prepared to the break the law to give parents time to vote.

Voting in the triennial elections for most school boards closed at noon on Friday, June 7.

But Ponsonby Primary School principal Dr Anne Malcolm said most of her parents did not receive their voting papers until about 2pm on Thursday, giving them less than 24 hours to read the candidates’ statements and get their votes in.

She put the blame squarely on “NZ Post inefficiency”.

“They sent the voting papers out on Monday May 27,” she said.

“It took 11 days for NZ Post to get mail into our letterboxes in the centre of Auckland, from Wellington, which is absolutely abhorrent.”

She “panicked” when most of her parents had not received voting papers by last Tuesday, June 4.

“I really panicked. I thought, we are going to end up with a situation where people will go to court over this, that it will be unjust, people will not have enough time to read the papers,” she said.

“NZ Post says, and I know because I live in Ponsonby, that they only deliver in Ponsonby on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, so the next hit will be Thursday.”

My impression is that the votes were delivered more slowly this year. I was delivering pamphlets a week after the date deliveries started to be made and saw a number of election packs in letterboxes.

So is digital voting the solution? At this stage I am afraid not. This is something that I wrote earlier this year:

“Auckland Council wishes to conduct a trial of online voting at next year’s local government elections and the local boards are being asked to comment.

People that know me will be aware that I am a somewhat self confessed technophile. I have owned a computer for 30 years now and my MacBook Pro is rarely not by my side.

But I must admit having misgivings about the proposal to test run electronic voting and wonder if this will be too soon.

The report that the Waitakere Ranges Local Board is to consider this week says this:

The internet has become an integral part of everyday life. Many of the transactions that used to be carried out by post have long been replaced by online options, to the extent that people expect online facilities for their day-to-day activities. Online voting is therefore a natural progression and constitutes an opportunity to modernise the operation of local democracy in New Zealand.

The current postal voting method relies entirely on New Zealand Post providing an effective and reliable service. It is a reality that the postal service is declining. Fewer New Zealanders choose to communicate via post, particularly first time and younger voters, many of whom have never posted a letter. The frequency of delivery is decreasing and the cost of sending mail is surging. The postal cost for the 2019 Auckland local elections will increase by an estimated 77 per cent compared with 2016, because of a postage price increase of almost 60 per cent and an increase in the number of electors of approximately 70,000.

It will become increasingly difficult to deliver postal voting effectively and affordably. Therefore, it is crucial to have a viable alternative to postal voting in place, and online voting is the obvious choice.

While complaints about the mail system are appropriate this should not of itself be a reason to change systems.  And there is a cost in making democracy function properly.  If you want an example of a local election with problems the recent election for the Auckland Consumer Energy Trust is a prime example with turnout less than 13%.  It did not help that the independent electoral officer was banned from promoting the election.

After the recent US elections and the multitude of complaints arising from the conduct of different elections particularly in Texas, Georgia and Florida I believe that some caution is warranted.

The complaints from those elections are numerous, voting machines that preferred Cruz to Beto even though voters had selected the all Democrat option, voting machines locked away, voters purged from voting lists because of slightly mismatched signatures, one candidate for Governor also being the chief electoral officer, and voting resources favouring wealthy over poor areas.

And the Internet does not have a good reputation when it comes to the enforcement of democratic norms, as shown by the various complaints over Facebook, the spread of fake news and possible Russian interference in the US election show. It has even been shown that there is a sustainable business model involving the spread of fake news, and it seems the faker the news the more profitable the spread.

I appreciate that many of these examples are not relevant for the proposed electronic voting model but they can show what happens when things get skewered.

Stanford Computer Professor David Dill has provided these reasons for not trusting computers with online voting:

  • There’s no way with any reasonable amount of resources that you can guarantee that the software and hardware are bug-free and that they haven’t been maliciously attacked.
  • There exists the opportunity for phishing emails being answered for the unwary and for those credentials to then be used to vote in a way contrary to the intent of the voter. Although given the size and scale of local elections the prospects would appear to be remote there is still the possibility that this could occur.
  • The benefit of a paper based voting system is that there is a fully reviewable chain of evidence that can be checked to make sure that the intent of the electorate has been properly ascertained.
  • The perception of election trustworthiness is important. A result needs to be generally accepted as being accurate and credible.  And breach of security around internet voting could irretrievably taint an election result.

And he said this about the use of paper ballots:

Paper has some fundamental properties as a technology that make it the right thing to use for voting. You have more-or-less indelible marks on the thing. You have physical objects you can control. And everyone understands it. If you’re in a polling place and somebody disappears with a ballot box into a locked room and emerges with a smirk, maybe you know that there is a problem. We’ve had a long time to work out the procedures with paper ballots and need to think twice before we try to throw a new technology at the problem. People take paper ballots for granted and don’t understand how carefully thought through they are.

Auckland Council’s proposal is for there to be a variety of voting techniques and I agree this is important.  Having digital to the exclusion of others would discriminate against those for who the internet is a somewhat foreign place, including the elderly and the poor.

The report itself says this about security:

No information technology (IT) or voting system is 100 per cent secure, but the Online Voting Working Party is committed to developing an online voting solution that will guarantee a similar or higher level of security than currently offered by postal voting.

I am not sure this will be enough.  Reputation wise any breach of an electronic system could be disastrous.”

And I admit that I have changed my mind on the issue.

If you live in Auckland and still want to vote the safest thing may be to drop your voting papers to your local library or service centre.

And if you have not received your papers you can still cast a special vote.

But please vote. A properly functioning democracy depends on it being as representative as possible.

Reprinted from gregpresland.com.

38 comments on “Will online voting solve the turnout problem ”

  1. Sacha 1

    No. The problem is people seeing a point to voting, not about how it is done.

    Local bodies are not used to getting out there, connecting with people, and communicating what they do. Their comms teams are stuffed with people trying to shut down risks instead, just like central govt agencies are.

    Engaging all the parts of each area's population takes skill, budgets, and enduring commitment. It's not rocket surgery.

    • weka 1.1

      This is important, but so is making voting accessible. I've seen so many differing opinions about the cut off point for posting papers back, some of those opinions from candidates. It's bizarre, no-one seems to actually know.

      I'm assuming I've missed the cut off, so will have to hand deliver. I'll make a special trip to town to do that. Lots of people just won't bother who might have otherwise if NZ Post wasn't a mess.

    • tc 1.2

      +100 Goff or tamahere….king or Southgate. Hardly stirs the winds of genuine change as all are established troughers.

      Outside supershity some council positions aren't even contested as the incumbent has no challengers.

  2. weka 2

    Who is pushing online voting?

    • Mostly, local government officials who have very real concerns about turnout but are naive about technology. There are also vendors of voting software who would like to sell their wares in NZ.

      I have written about this issue here: https://thepolicyobservatory.aut.ac.nz/publications/online-voting-project-page

      • weka 2.1.1

        thanks! What's gist of the Internal Affairs position?

        • Local elections are run by each Council. On my webpage I have DIA documents that discuss the (aborted) 2019 online voting trial. Some in DIA and the head of the GCSB do not believe local government has the expertise to carry it out online voting well.

          • weka 2.1.1.1.1

            good to know, thanks. I'll take a closer look.

          • Dukeofurl 2.1.1.1.2

            "Local elections are run by each Council. "

            In general thats not correct. You could count on the fingers of 1 hand the number of councils that run their own election.

            Theres a few contractors who run everything for their council customers..every step of the way including the specialised counting.

            An online voting would be the same, where the procedural processes and handling the voting itself would be done by contractors -presumavbly vetted by DIA.

  3. ianmac 3

    I've been thinking that perhaps Councils are doing a good job, then there is nothing to excite the voters. This might be a good indication rather than the negative. Bet if there was a wide spread annoyance about a serious issue capable of being solved by Council, then the voters would be shouting out and about and voting accordingly.

    A low vote is a vote of approval?

    • weka 3.1

      River and lake water quality has been rating as one of the most important issues for NZers in recent years. Still no increase in turnout for regional council elections, which is odd given regional councils are the ones with the statutory powers to protect waterways.

      • JanM 3.1.1

        But is the population at large aware of this? Who is in charge of what is now so complex that at a guess most people wouldn't have a clue!

        • JanM 3.1.1.1

          And it would appear from the fiascos of the illegal dam in Mangawhai and the proposed rubbish dump in the Dome Valley that even those who ought to know are hopelessly confused!

        • weka 3.1.1.2

          true, but that's an issue of lack of civics education in NZ not a sign of voter approval.

    • Sacha 3.2

      Negative campaigning also reduces turnout.

      Auckland has been a test ground for the tactics we will see the Nats roll out next year, imported from their brethren and advisors in Australia, UK and US.

    • mickysavage 3.3

      If there was huge changes in different parts of the country I would say yes but it seems pretty uniform which suggests that it is a structural problem.

    • Graeme 3.4

      Down in Queenstown we had a postal referendum for a visitor levy in June. The turnout was 41.45%, with 81.37% in favour. A lot of this was blow-back from poorly planned low quality mass tourism under the previous government.

      Four months later there's a council election and it looks like were going to be pushing to get 20% voting, although over in Central Otago, Cromwell where there is a very lively debate about how the town grows turnout is higher with 25% return at 4/10.

      Generally people here are pretty happy with the current council in Queenstown, unless they run an accomodation business, so you could be onto something.

      There will be a lot of pissed off people here if the low turnout lets the moteliers get the mayoralty or a good chunk of council due to a low turnout, and the visitor levy is overturned.

    • Janet 3.5

      Ianmac
      “A low vote is a vote of approval?”
      I agree its an indication the public are happy with things the way they are. I think a no vote should be counted as a vote for the incumbents then people would vote when they wanted a change.

  4. The Fairy Godmother 4

    Also the options for people with disabilities seem to be very poor or not widely advertised. I met a woman on dialysis but not enrolled. She can't easily get out of the house to do a special vote. Another woman just out of hospital wondering how she is going to post it. At general elections candidates can authorize people to do sick votes

  5. Tiger Mountain 5

    “Roger’n’Ruth’s” blighted legacy is what started the voting decline. Me me me-mine mine mine psychology promoted a post modernist individualism, along with alienation, and transience of addresses, as the home owner/renter ratio changed. Collectivity has declined, and with it the widespread sense of having a hands on stake in local communities. Micky’s beloved Waitakere tries to be an exception of course.

    Local Body Amalgamations since 1989 have promoted neo liberal managerialism as the answer to everything. Which taken to the extreme of the ACT corporatist fantasy–Supercity, and its undemocratic CCOs–have clearly illustrated do not live up to the rap.

    The answer imo is varied…
    control trials of online voting, paper voting collection points to be placed wherever people go–schools, dairies, bus stops, etc., unpublished roll promoted to attract migrants, women, and debtors to vote, political education to be emphasised in schools, more advertising.

  6. My local candidates..

    all want to make my town a "vibrant happy place to live, work, play and retire."..

    oh, and its the Hawkes Bay..so they all 'want' "good drinking water"…
    something about being the best place to raise children (though I guess not for the 400 children in the Bay who spent last night in emergency housing)..and the usual stuff about ‘potential’..

    I really can't find any real points of difference..beyond the fact that some of them seem deluded and obsessed with parking issues, so, I guess I won't vote for them..but that doesn't help me pick who to vote for..

    then again, I can disregard the candidates with possible National Party ties, not to mention those with well known connections to a certain political hit man..so narrowing it down further I guess…maybe I could just eeny meeny miney mo the bland options…

    or maybe I'll just not bother..

  7. Ad 7

    Unless voting gets on to phones, the generation under 30 will be lost to democracy.

    On my phone is a GIS of my location, and biomarkers to enter. From there I can pretty much Paywave my life away. If I can get onto my phone with security, and spend all my accounts without so much as a further touch ,I should be able to vote with it.

    Agree that the Census was a very bad dry run for anything digital en masse from the state.

    But between all the state's databases, and Google, and my phone, they should be able to prove I am who I am.

    Phone voting must be the option that saves democracy for the next generation.

    Otherwise these kids will just keep diong meaningless crap like sit on the streets shouting "WaddaWeWant … Now" And getting no result at all.

  8. bwaghorn 8

    A $50 dollar cash voucher with an option to give it to a few charities would work .

  9. adam 9

    Love how the centre can't see the wood for the trees.

    You been supporting anti-democratic policies for years – then you moan people don't vote.

    What a sad joke.

    The reforms of the last 40 years have not worked, and in the great kiwi tradition, rather than do somthing about it – we just walk away.

    Sanity has prevailed, and the overwhelming majority have walked away from a deeply anti-democratic council system that was force upon us.

    • The Al1en 9.1

      Switching to mmp in general elections is vastly superior in enabling representation than fpp ever was, so that great kiwi tradition of no8 wire thinking to address an unfair system is a great example of the left, right and centre working together, supporting pro democratic policy.

      Voting is low in council elections across NZ and not just the super city, so I doubt the 'forced system' in your particular electorate is to blame for dwindling turnout nationwide, just as the imaginary centre you decry aren't anti democratic nor responsible for stay away voters you champion as they voluntarily give up there rights of participation.

      But cool story, mate.

      • adam 9.1.1

        So a pome understands nz culture does he – me thinks not.

        As for centrist sods – I did have you in mind when I said it. And you just prove it over and over – tory in sheep clothing, is still a tory.

        As for you not getting that the whole country had it's local body system change 30 odd years ago right in the midst of the neo-con revolution. Shows just how ignorant you are the A1len, maybe you should read more NZ history before you make stupid comments. Or make even more stupid assumptions – but you seem good at that so I probably should just let you…

        Have a nice day.

        [It is time again to remind you that robust debate and personal insults are not one and the same thing. I have reviewed your last 40 or so comments and old habits die hard. Keep it up and you will receive some ‘garden leave’ – Incognito]

        • The Al1en 9.1.1.1

          Putting your racism and bitterness to one side, you claimed there are anti democratic policies being supported by the centre in NZ, I showed you just one example where that isn't the case at all, in fact, one that does the very opposite of being anti democratic by being more representative for minorities and smaller political parties. Please, feel free to list the centre opposed anti democratic policy you were writing of.

          As for history lessons, save your breath, I know about the '89 local government reforms, and whilst they were made under neo lib economic theory, it doesn't prevent any one voter from being represented using their vote. Even the super city, forged from act and national ideology, hasn't affected your democratic rights, allowing you to vote for mayor, councillors and local boards etc.

          Sometimes the answer for disenfranchisement lies a lot closer to home than continually blaming someone else.

          Thanks, have had, and will continue to do so. You too 😉

        • Incognito 9.1.1.2

          See my Moderation note @ 5:56 PM.

          • adam 9.1.1.2.1

            I'm not interested nor am I willing to have a discussion with the al1en – he knows it – you know it.

            So there will be no debate.

            I don't do disphobic wankers and there inability to apologise for threats of violence.

            Could have ended ages ago if he been adult enough to apologise for their comments – never did – so they gets what they get. Treated like the smug jumped up idiot they are.

            Have a nice day.

            [Sadly, your insults are not restricted to just one commenter and you have a bad habit of being quite ‘generous’ with insulting others as is clear from your most recent comments. Therefore, your ‘reasoning’ won’t wash but then again, “they started it” or “they did it too” should never be used as an excuse because it is pathetic way of saying that you cannot or don’t want to control your own actions because of others and accusing them of not being “adult enough”. You can take your issues somewhere else until Saturday – Incognito]

    • Sacha 9.2

      The reforms of the last 40 years have not worked

      They have disenfranchised people exactly as intended.

  10. observer 10

    We should simply do what is done in numerous other democracies. Treat local elections just like national ones. It's not hard.

    Have exactly the same set-up (polling stations) and use the same electoral roll, which would also eliminate the double-dip ratepayer rort.

    One person, one vote, one system, one form of democracy (I'd prefer MMP but others are worthy of consideration). Political parties could stop pretending they aren't, as well.

    Local elections are very important, but until they are treated as such, then we'll keep getting low turnout and (related) low quality people on councils.

  11. Sabine 11

    Maybe the issue does not lie with the voter but with the dipshits that are running.

    And sadly one the voting sheet is no option for 'non of the above'.

    Maybe really that is the issue, and online voting will not change a single thing, other then it is fairly easy to hack into these machines ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mHm0yle6GBI ) and thus it will even further erode the interest and will into voting.

    Cause frankly, at the current stage there is not one person on the list that is actually decent enough to get anyone votes. And that is not only for AKL but the whole country.

  12. R.P Mcmurphy 12

    stop blamingthe system and start on the candidates. their blurbs are self promoting, oleaginous and tedious. the small turnout is symptomatic of the complete disinterest of thepublic in a gang of no talents going for the pin money. got it?

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