Voting trial cost worries councillors

By John Maslin

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Whanganui District Council will have to dig deeper into its pockets to fund an online voting trial, with Horizons Regional Council deciding it won't be making any financial contribution.

The district council is one of eight around the country that put its hand up to trial online voting in the October local body elections.

It is estimated it will cost the council $75,000 but because it manages the elections for both part of the regional council and Whanganui District Health Board, it went to both of them asking for financial help.

The health board has been asked for $21,000 but has delayed a final commitment, saying it wants more detail from the district council.

Horizons was asked to stump up $15,000 but has decided it won't be doing that.

Being involved in the trial has already got some Whanganui councillors upset, especially because of the cost.

Councillor Ray Stevens said he was keen to see full recommendations of the council "to understand how we got to this crazy point".

"How do we commit to spending $50,000 without a resolution from council?" he asked.

Councillor Helen Craig was "very unhappy", and another was waiting for an explanation of how and when the council made a funding commitment.

"My stance had always been to support the idea in principle but at no point did that include committing council to this sort of funding.

"It's never, ever been approved by council.

"I've been told by chief executive Kym Fell that if the Minister says Whanganui can trial online voting, we are committed to costs of at least $50,000 for software.

"Like some of my colleagues, I want to know who made the decision because it's not a resolution from councillors."

The council has contracted an Auckland company, Independent Election Services, to work on the trial system and that will eat up $50,000 of the $75,000 allocated for the trial.

Yesterday, mayor Annette Main told the Chronicle that the council was still waiting to hear from Government on whether the trial would go ahead.

She was "increasingly concerned" by the delay in getting a decision, and could understand why the uncertainty had led to Horizons and the health board reviewing their involvement.

She said she had expressed these concerns to Minister for Local Government Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga last week. "I believe we are too close to our local-body elections to enable our community to be well informed," she said.

"The purpose of the trial was to increase voter participation, and leaving it this late will make it very difficult to achieve this result."

Ms Main said when Government made its decision, "council has agreed to review its involvement once we know a trial will be undertaken".

- Wanganui Chronicle

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