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Online voting back on the agenda

Sarah Putt, Contributor. 30 August 2018, 5:15 pm

Nine councils are looking at providing online voting for the next local government elections. An advanced notice for a Request for Proposal for an online voting trial was issued via the government's procurement platform this week.

According to the notice, the trial is prompted by a move by central government to pass legislation enabling online voting to proceed. "On the basis that the necessary changes will be made to the regulatory framework governing local authority elections, nine local authorities are seeking proposals from a firm by itself or in collaboration with other firms, to provide an online voting option as part of the 2019 local authority elections," the notice reads.

The nine councils participating in the collaborative approach are Auckland Council, Gisborne District Council, Hamilton City Council, Marlborough District Council, Matamata-Piako District Council, Palmerston North City Council, Selwyn District Council, Tauranga City Council, and Wellington City Council.

The "baseline expectation" is that online voting will be as secure as the current postal system. It would not replace postal voting, but the system would have to ensure that voters could only cast a single vote.

A list of requirements set out in the notice for the online trial demonstrates the complexity of the task, given the mix of local bodies and voting systems that need to be accommodated. The solution will need to enable voting for district, territorial and regional councils and district health boards. "Some local elections will also include other bodies such as community boards, local boards, licensing and land trusts. This means multiple permutations of voting options - the online voting system will need to be able to concurrently operate both First Past the Post (FPP) and Single Transferable Vote (STV) elections voting systems within a ballot paper for some regions."

A number of pre-conditions are likely to narrow the field of potential suppliers. These include being able to demonstrate they have implemented an online voting system which has resulted in a successful election, and the ability to host the online voting solution and store all related data in New Zealand.

This is the second time online voting has been mooted in New Zealand. A proposed trial for the 2016 elections was called off by then Associate Local Government Minister Louise Upston. She claimed that time restraints had meant that it didn't meet legislative requirements and they could not "cannot guarantee public confidence in the election results."

There was strong discussion about the security of online voting in 2016 and those councils involved in the pilot should expect a similarly robust debate this time around too.


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