Much has been made of the proposal to use local body elections to trial e-voting in 2016. Just this week, Dunedin City Council became the latest local authority to vote not to participate in the experiment. Its withdrawal has reduced the original pool of 13 councils interested in the trial to just eight. The small remaining number has raised questions over the financial viability of the experiment, with calls for the Department of Internal Affairs to finance the project, rather than the local councils themselves. The decision by Dunedin Council to withdraw was based around three main themes – cost (put at $165,000 on top of the price of running a ‘standard’ postal vote election), security and access. Whatever online solution is used, there are remaining fears that security cannot be guaranteed. Indeed, the recent scandal involving Ashley Madison highlights such risks and, internationally, there are a number of countries where e-voting has been banned because of such fears.
The hearing that led to the Dunedin withdrawal from the trial included the fact that, in some areas of the city, less than 30 per cent of voters have internet access. That means by moving towards e-voting, we may be effectively disenfranchising a significant number of citizens. Given the increasing levels of both disaffection and disengagement from traditional civic institutions, such a move would only serve to further exacerbate already worrying trends.
But all these issues – whatever their validity – miss the point. The reason put forward for introducing e-voting has been to arrest the decline in participation in local body elections. Yet, there is little evidence to show this will be achieved.