Online voting possible next local election in Bay of Plenty

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Online voting could be used in the next local body election according to Local Government New Zealand, but Tauranga locals are divided on the issue.

LinkT Young People in Business chairperson Joy Dawson said she thought online voting in local body elections was a good idea and long overdue.

Effort should be put into simplifying the entire voting process to make it easier for people to understand, and an independent review of candidates in a short video format could help increase voting, Ms Dawson said.

LinkT deputy chairman Nico de Jong was surprised online voting had not been implemented yet for local elections.

"As well as saving a few trees, having online voting would make it much more user-friendly to vote, which should theoretically increase voter turnout. It's surely worth trying anything to increase the turnout," Mr de Jong said.

Pyes Pa resident Michelle Radley was in support of online voting.

"I wanted to vote but I was in the middle of moving and lost the bit of paper, so I didn't end up voting," Ms Radley said.

"For me, online voting would be so much easier. Whereas on paper it's a matter of finding it, filling it in, and then it would probably sit in the car for a while before posting."

Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) deputy chief executive advocacy Helen Mexted said the organisation had been a strong advocate for introducing online voting and supported proposed trials during the election.

"We live in a digital world and, for young people, especially, we need to be able to offer this as an option. LGNZ would like to see online voting ready to be used by the next local elections."

"It should be used alongside postal voting, and LGNZ is interested in investigating other ways of drawing out more voters. A return to a dedicated polling day could be another option," Ms Mexted said.

Tauranga City councillor Rick Curach said with the drop in the use of the mail system for most people postal voting would have meant a special trip.

Newly elected Tauranga City councillors were sceptical of the notion of online voting.

Max Mason said increasing voter turnout was "a bit more than just simple online voting".

"The most important thing is the process of considering candidates is done comprehensively."

He said online platforms, which enabled voters to learn which candidates aligned closest to their views, would help increase voter turnout.

"Those are the sorts of things that appeal to people and help to make decisions."

Larry Baldock said those who thought online voting would increase voter registration were "a little misled".

He said the combination of a high number of candidates, the three-week time allowance for voting, and the sourcing of information just from the biography handbook contributed to the low number of votes in the recent Tauranga City Council election.

"It's not the system of voting. It's not that difficult to send something back in."

Terry Malloy said he had reservations about online voting.

"I feel that voter participation is more than just ticking a box. It's actually taking some responsibility to inform [yourself] on the people and the issues."

"I think you have to investigate online voting, but I don't know whether it is the answer."

Mr Malloy suggested the council could help voters understand that "what happens in council really effects today and the future".


NOT THE ASNWER TO ALL PROBLEMS

A review by AUT senior researcher Julienne Molineaux warned against the assumption that online voting would solve the low voter turnout at local elections.

It said the benefits of online voting had to be compared with security concerns and underlying issues of voter apathy.

"Engagement issues such as not knowing enough about the candidates and not being interested have been reported as reasons for not participating by 44 per cent of non-voters."

"Low turnouts must be addressed as they undermine the legitimacy of the winners and can point to wider issues of disillusionment with democratic processes, institutions and actors."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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