Warning given over online voting trial

By John Maslin

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WHANGANUI is getting too committed to being part of a costly online voting trial, according to councillor Rob Vinsen (left).

Mr Vinsen has been a staunch opponent of Whanganui District Council being part of the test, which could happen in this October's local body elections. While no final decision has been made, the council has put its hat into the ring and been shortlisted as one of eight local authorities to conduct the trial.

The Government is expected to announce within days if the trial will go ahead and which councils will take part.

Mr Vinsen said mayor Annette Main had given an assurance that councillors would get the chance to vote whether or not to be involved, but he was alarmed to read in the Manawatu Standard that the Palmerston North City Council believes Whanganui is committed to this trial.

He said many of his council colleagues saw it as a waste of $75,000, which is the expected cost of the online voting trial.

"Nothing has been discussed at the council table, yet we're getting deeper and deeper into this madness," Mr Vinsen said. "The next thing will be to say that we can't pull out now, we're committed."

He said the Palmerston North council was spending $100,000 on the trial "and many there think it's a waste also".

The issue was being driven by a "misguided belief by some" that Whanganui was a national and international leader in digital technology just because the city had ultrafast broadband, he said. "Ultrafast broadband is commonplace now. It's like claiming to be a leader because we have the telephone - and the ratepayers have to pay the bill for this folly."

He said trials to test online voting in Australia showed about 20 per cent used it and the overall participation rate did not improve.

"Nearly every other local authority in New Zealand knows this and that's why 90 per cent aren't taking part in the trial.

"Why should Whanganui ratepayers finance a government trial? We can install the system later when it is ready to go."

A Palmerston North council spokesman said his council and Whanganui's were using the services of an Auckland-based company to work through some issues that could arise if the trial gets the green light.

The spokesman said both councils have engaged Independent Election Services to look at potential security issues and make sure the online process meets government expectations.

That company has been involved in elections, polls and consultations for local government, corporations, iwi and energy trusts over the last 21 years.

Even if Whanganui is singled out as the guinea pig, postal voting would remain an option for those who did not want to go online.

The elections cost Whanganui $100,000 but Horizons Regional Council and the Whanganui District Health Board pick up half that cost because the council's electoral office manages voting for those other two bodies.

However, the online trial is expected to cost an extra $75,000 and at council's December meeting some councillors questioned the merit of that outlay.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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