Councillor says move online being held back partly though fear of mobilising disgruntled younger voters.

Today's Mt Albert by-election could - and should - have been New Zealand's first online voting trial, claims a veteran Auckland councillor concerned change is being held back by political fears of activating young voters.

Experienced Waitakere councillor and former deputy mayor Penny Hulse says Auckland Council has been ready to trial online voting for some time and been pushing for it happen.

And she told the Weekend Herald that today's Mt Albert by-election was the latest opportunity to go begging.

Government pulled the plug on online voting for last year's local body elections over online security fears. There have also been frustrations within council that this month's Howick by-election still didn't have the option of online voting either.


Council poured over "highlights and issues" from the 2016 local body elections this week, with one of the key targets being online voting.

Council documents declare Hulse and Mayor Phil Goff "will be pursuing this" while a survey of 1259 people was overwhelmingly in favour of modernisation, with 74 per cent preferring online voting to a traditional postal system.

Hulse said the postal system is antiquated and the democratic process is being hamstrung by what she describes as "resistance" to making the voting system as relevant and accessible as possible.

With many young Aucklanders unable to afford housing, Hulse suggested some politicians might not want them to vote on a more accessible and relatable system - such as online or through a smartphone app.

"I think some of the resistance to this change comes from the fact some people are nervous it actually opens up voting to an entirely new demographic - and that demographic might not be the people who vote for them," Hulse said.

"I think we need to be really honest about that.

"If you genuinely believe in democracy, we need to ensure that we remain relevant, are working for our communities and then we should be open to any democratic process that works to get people involved."

Auckland Councillor Penny Hulse has questioned delays in New Zealand modernising the voting system and an ongoing wait for trials of online voting. Photo / supplied
Auckland Councillor Penny Hulse has questioned delays in New Zealand modernising the voting system and an ongoing wait for trials of online voting. Photo / supplied

Government has called for local government to take the lead in online voting, with the need to guarantee the integrity of the system - most notably safety from hacking - the top priority.


But Hulse questioned some politicians' interest in a digital switchover.

"Auckland was pretty keen, we pushed pretty hard, and Government came up with to say that it didn't quite meet all the criteria they'd set out to allow it to go live," she said.

"We sort of feel like we're ahead of the government in that we're keener than they are."

Hulse said the postal system isn't bullet-proof either.

"Government seems to want absolute watertight guarantees that it is not hackable or open to any messing with," she said.

"I don't know why people seem to feel somehow the postal vote has this magic power of being completely safe. It can be, and has been, hacked in its own way by people just going round at night and picking up ballot papers."

A spokeswoman for the Mayor's office said Goff was not available for comment due to other commitments this week, but said the Mayor endorsed the push for online voting.

Deputy Mayor, Bill Cashmore, also said while there is no clear timeline on when a trial might run, online voting is also something he would like to see introduced - pointing out it would probably be well-received by young voters and a good way of maximising the reach of the democratic process.

"We need to pursue an investigate what this could actually do to encourage more people to vote, especially younger voters," Cashmore said.

According to council's post-2016 elections survey, 25 per cent of people who intended to vote - but didn't - said they would have been encouraged to if there was an online or app-based option.

Council is preparing to make a submission to the Justice and Electoral Select Committee's inquiry into the 2016 local authority elections.

A spokesman for the office of Associate Justice Minister, Mark Mitchell, said online voting would definitely not happen for this year's General Election, but Government is working through potential legislative changes and it could be something addressed after the September 23 election.

"After every election the Justice and Electoral committee launch their inquiry - which suggests what can be done better - and they might suggest digitised voting.

"Until then, we really don't know."

The polls
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