Good, online voting axed

I’m not a fan of online voting.

Local Government minister Louise Upston has axed a plan to have online voting in eight council elections in November .

Councillors in Wellington, Porirua, Masterton, Rotorua, Matamata Piako, Palmerston North,  Whanganui and Selwyn had voted to offer online voting as an option. And Local Government NZ was actively promoting it as a vehicle to boost participation as recently as January. They have now been over-ruled.

It was always pitched as a “trial” – presumably to make it less intimidating from a PR perspective – but it was going to be the real thing: Online votes in November would have been legal and binding. It would have been better termed a pilot.

“Security testing has been planned but has not yet occurred. Without seeing the results of testing we cannot be confident the systems are secure enough, and the trial could not be authorised,” Ms Upston says. The system needs more work, she says.  

There was a fierce debate before a series of council votes in August and September last year. Some, like Dunedin and Christchurch, voted against the “trial” after hearing from a group of software developers led by David Lane. Mr Lane argued online voting was too fraught with potential vulnerabilities (Auckland Council was keen, but the government said it was too large to participate in the “trial”).

A voice on the pro side was tech commentator and IT consultant Ian Apperly, who called Mr Lane and his allies “dinosaurs.” He noted while there had been some flawed trials, there were no examples of actual online ballots being compromised (read more of their arguments here). And Steve Kilpatrick, head of, which was to provide the technology, said his company’s platform had a proven record in board and iwi elections (read more on the pro and con arguments here).

In the middle was Institute of IT Professionals [IITP] chief executive Paul Matthews, who served on the government’s Online Voting Working Group (assembled by Ms Upston’s predecessor Chris Tremain) that laid the groundwork for the online voting pilot.

Mr Matthew favoured a pilot for local body elections, where it was relatively easy to make a case for online voting being as secure or more secure than postal voting.

But he was more cautious about online voting’s potential to replace a physical ballot box at a general election.

My view is that if you can’t be bothered filling in a postal ballot or voting at a polling station then you don’t deserve a vote.

There is nothing wrong with requiring people to attend a polling booth, it is a small price for democracy. I would even ditch postal ballots, as the rationale for introducing postal ballots was to increase participation, and that has failed too.




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  • Nige.

    While doing things online is convenient I don’t understand the rush to do EVERYTHING over the Internet. It’s still new, only becoming mainstream in the last decade and there are still plenty of people out there who don’t want a bar of it.

    Corporations are jamming it down our throats and government departments try and make us do everything online already. Voting is not tried and tested and leaves the door wide open for corruption.

    What happens if indeed an election IS rigged and goes unnoticed for a year or two? Would that make the legislation passed in that time illegal?

    It was a dumb idea right from the start.

  • andrewo

    What problem were we trying to solve with online voting? I see no upside and lots of potential problems.

    • Mick Ie

      Bit of a contradiction really isn’t it? The problem they were trying solve is disinterest, lethargy and down right laziness. You would think the Health Advocates would be encouraging them to get up off their derrières and get out and about.

  • Sally

    I am not convinced that an online system could be designed that the person voting is doing so, is not influenced. All the codes and account links to mobiles won’t getting around the factor that there could be a person sitting beside them on the couch telling them what to do. Turning up at a polling booth a person is able to vote secure in the knowledge no-one is leaning over their shoulder telling them which box to tick.
    Then there are the hackers.

    • T Mardell

      There are two issues – the technological issues which ultimately can be fixed, but the second which cannot ever. This is the fact that a public polling booth with multiple scrutineers is an environment to ensure that individuals cannot be coached, coerced, and threatened to vote in any specific way. This can never be reproduced in private environments as provided with postal and online voting systems.

      Certainly have better and safer electronic counting systems, but never give up the public environment for casting your vote.

  • Keeping Stock

    As I ratepayer and voter in Whanganui, I am delighted that this “trial” has been canned. “Live” online voting is too big a risk at the moment, and loopholes need to be identified and closed before online voting is unleashed on the great unwashed.

    [Mod redacted] The right to vote is one of the most important rights we have, and if you aren’t prepared to make just a little bit of effort to exercise that right, you probably shouldn’t be voting. And more to the point, if you don’t vote, don’t moan; you have got the representation you deserve.

  • Brian

    I have been a worker in general elections since the late 1990’s and to be honest there is nothing like watching community turn up to do their democratic duty, to watch people catching up with each other as well as voting. I am with you, it’s one opportunity for the country to get off our bottoms away from the computer, get some fresh air and actually think about what we are doing!!

  • Wayne Hodge

    Online voting is too fraught with potential areas for fraud, hacking etc

  • cows4me

    For what it is worth. As a farmer I have had the choice of voting online for a number of years, Fonterra, Beef & Lamb etc. Seems to work all right but probably not as much at stake as a local or general election.

    • You get a suitably motivated hacker, or someone who has pots of money and is wanting to avoid an orange jumpsuit, and they will be doing all they can to hack into the Online Voting for a general election.

  • BR

    Anyone who is too lazy to post a letter, or to struggle down to the polling booth on election day is surely too lazy to have formed a valid opinion on whom they might vote for.


    • Oh Please

      …and I’d reckon the majority of the lazies will be on the left of the political divide – hence their push for it.

  • We considered looking into developing something for this (it’s closely related to other software we have that councils use); what it got down to was that apart from having RealMe logins, there was no way that we could say that this was Joe Bloggs. And even with RealMe there was no guarantee that someone had not passed along their password.
    We weren’t prepared to take the legal risk of it going pear shaped and us getting the blame.

  • Mine it,Drill it,Sell it.

    A caller this morning on Leighton’s show suggested using the Lotto Terminals which I think is a great idea.I don’t think the Fat German won $22 million in Ashburton on Saturday night.

    On second thoughts this is a bad idea as the Labour and Green supporters would turn out in large numbers thinking they are going to win something for free.

    • Sally

      Rather defeats the purpose of not leaving the house to vote. Isn’t the idea of online voting so one doesn’t need to go out and vote.
      Surely not too difficult to stop at a polling booth on the way to the lotto shop.

  • Keanne Lawrence

    Good move. Living in one of the most corrupt countries in the world the up-coming election will be conducted electronically. This term is more appropriate in a country where only 20% of people have bank account and perhaps a smaller percentage understanding what on-line means.
    Interestingly the system used will not require a keyboard entry but rather a relic from the early days of computing of “mark sensing”.
    Back in the day ICL cards were marked with a Black Beauty pencil when preparing orders which were then passed again and again through the card machine. The marks were “sensed” and punched accordingly. Here the voter will shade the choice on the voting card/form which will be read and recorded. After voting the voter will have one finger marked with indelible ink to prevent voting again. That should all work pretty well. Yeah right.
    Even though I have no vote here our dog seems to be making the choice of which roving supporter group gets past the gate or for that matter anywhere in the 8 acre family block. Red is ok by him since it is the colour of a frequent freight service that he is familiar with but it might be interesting trying to retrain him with colours.

  • Sceptic59

    This is pretty much all you need to know

  • FornaK

    Ditch postal voting, and make all voters turn up in person for voting.
    All we need is the Labour Party IT company providing the security for online voting, and imagine the shambles it’d turn out to be.