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Online voting delayed

Sarah Putt, Contributor. 13 December 2018, 7:13 pm

Online voting will have to wait for at least another three years, after a trial planned for local elections next year was scrapped by Local Government NZ. The nine councils that formed a working group to deliver online voting are now looking to the 2022 local elections, according to reports in Stuff and Radio NZ this week.

But even the next electoral cycle may be too soon for online voting. A report released this week, authored by Julienne Molineaux of the Auckland University of Technology, raises several questions about the feasibility of online voting.

Most damning is the section about security, in which Molineaux observes: "In short, most IT security experts believe secure online voting cannot be achieved. Reasons include: all complex computer systems have flaws in their code that can be taken advantage of; the internet was never designed with security at its core; and the requirements of a good voting system pull against each other."

She points out that Canada, Finland, France, Netherlands, Norway and the United Kingdom have all banned online voting at "national level elections" because the security risks are too high.

What about the benefits of online voting, chief of which is to improve the level of participation, especially among younger voters where there is currently a low turnout? Citing experiences overseas, Molineaux writes that online voting may not be the panacea to encouraging higher participation that we might have expected.

"Young people do not appear to prefer online voting over a paper ballot, when given the choice. The youngest voters (18-25) in Ontario and Norway are more likely to choose a paper ballot over an online voting option. Research in Switzerland shows that older voters are 'sticky' online voters - if they use this option once they use it in the next election, but this does not hold for young voters, who are more likely to abstain or choose a paper ballot the next election. Online voting does not appear to be the answer to young people's engagement."

Then there are the concerns about the "digital divide", which refers to those who can't access the internet for reasons that include location and economic circumstances, and who may be potentially shut out of e-voting. So that rather than extending participation, online voting might just entrench the status quo.

"Does online voting privilege the convenience of population groups who are already relatively privileged and whose interests are already well-represented?" Molineaux asks.

It looks like postal voting, which was adopted by all councils in 1989, is set to remain the default method for casting votes in local government elections for the foreseeable future. But as the postal service slowly contracts - the Postal Workers Union of Aotearoa says around 1500 post boxes have been removed in the past few years - how long can it be a viable method?

"Once considered a convenient method for casting a vote, concerns are now being raised about whether the postal system is fit for purpose," Molineaux writes.

The paper, available here, states that feedback is welcome. 


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