Online voting

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MPDC is one of nine New Zealand councils looking to modernise and futureproof New Zealand's local electoral system by taking part in an online voting trial in 2019. 

Auckland Council, Gisborne District Council, Hamilton City Council, Marlborough District Council, Matamata-Piako District Council, Palmerston North City Council, Selwyn District Council, Tauranga City Council and Wellington City Council have agreed in principle to an online voting trial for the 2019 local body elections, subject to some conditions being met - including the costs being acceptable; the legislation and regulations being in place on time; identified risks being manageable; relevant DHBs and regional councils being on board; and the respective councils giving their final approval to proceed later this year.
 
We are currently working together on a business case that will define the scope, risks and costs involved in the proposed trial. At the same time, we are working closely with the Department of Internal Affairs to ensure the necessary regulatory framework is in place on time to enable the proposed trial in 2019.

Timeline

Key dates for this project include:
  • 26 Sep - Draft tender closing date
  • 12 Oct - Final tender closing date
  • 23 Nov - Online Voting Working Party make a decision on supplier/s
  • Dec - Electoral matters amendment bill passed
  • Dec - Councils make their individual decisions on whether to proceed with the trial

 

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Will I be able to vote online?

Yes, if the trial goes ahead and you are registered to vote in the elections with one of the councils that participates in the trial at the 2019 local elections. In the case of Auckland Council, any online voting trial will only be offered to a subset (roughly 10%) of electors, with what that subset will be still to be decided. The other eight councils are intending to offer online voting to all their voters. 

2. Can I vote online now?

No, while online voting is legal (and has been since 2001), the law says that the Government has to make regulations that set out the way an online voting system would operate and the expected standards. These regulations have never been made. They are one of the things the Government will need to do to enable a trial in 2019.

3. Will I have to vote online?

No, local authorities that allow online voting will have to offer their voters at least one additional way to vote - such as postal voting.

4. Why do some local authorities want to trial online voting?

Local government elections use New Zealand’s postal service, which is becoming more expensive, less reliable, and less time effective, so we need to find a viable alternative. The local elections are held over three weeks, and a considerable amount of that is lost using the postal system, as it takes a week to send them out and week to for the votes to be sent back.

People want to vote online - after the 2016 elections 74% of Aucklanders said that their preferred method would be online voting. Online voting will also make the democratic process more accessible for those overseas or with disabilities that mean they require assistance to cast their vote.

5. Will online voting increase turnout?

Online voting may increase voter turnout, but it’s not a silver bullet to increasing participation – keeping elections relevant, informing the public and engaging communities are just as important.

6. Why not vote in person at a booth?

Voting in-person at a booth is not a practical solution for local government elections, as voters have a much larger array of options and votes to consider than during central government elections. In Matamata-Piako you vote for a Mayor, your ward Councillors, your Regional Councillor, and your respresentatives on the District Health Board. But in other areas there are even more - for example, in 2016 voters in Waitakere, had 21 different positions to vote for, and 78 candidates, so doing them in person at booth would not be practical.

7. Is online voting being considered for elections to Parliament?

Not at this time.

8. Why can’t we just do online voting without a trial?

New Zealand could just implement online voting for everyone at local elections in 2019, but the advice from other countries that use online voting is that is best to take gradual steps to implement online voting, with a pause after each step to reflect on what’s been learned.

There are also some things that make our local elections a little different from those in other countries. We have the choice of two voting systems, first past the post (FPP) or single transferable vote (STV). In most cases there is a mix of voting systems used in the same set of ballot papers (for example, in our area you vote for the DHB using the STV system, and Matamata-Piako District Council and Waikato Regional Council using FPP).

These different variations of elections are also unusual compared to international experience – for some of the participating councils, voters might be participating in an election for Mayor, Councillor, Regional Councillor, Community or Local Board, District Health Board and licensing trust.

9. Which councils are participating in the trial?

There are currently nine local authorities supporting a trial in principle. These councils are working with the Government, Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) and the Society of Local Government Managers (SOLGM) to determine what the requirements of online voting should be and what the cost of meeting those requirements will be.

Whether the councils proceed will depend on whether the requirements can be set in time and (of course) the cost. The local authorities will also be expected to demonstrate that they have the support of their communities (especially their District Health Boards, Regional Councils and Licensing Trusts).

The participating Councils at this time are Auckland Council, Gisborne District Council, Hamilton City Council, Marlborough District Council, Matamata-Piako District Council, Selwyn District Council, Hamilton City Council, Tauranga City Council and Wellington City Council. Others may join in the next few months.

10. How much is this costing?

It is too early to tell at this point. The local authorities will need to see the full set of requirements and then call for proposals from providers of online voting technology.

11. Who is paying for this?

The local authorities that participate in the trial will be meeting the cost of developing the online voting system themselves. The participating Councils are intending to work together to choose a single provider, to keep the costs of the trial as low as possible for their communities.

Because local authorities also conduct elections on behalf of District Health Boards, Regional Councils and Licensing Trusts, these agencies can expect to be asked to pay part of the cost of local elections.

Central government will not be directly funding the trial, however, they will be making the expertise of staff with expertise in local government, elections and information technology (including security) available free of charge.

Local Government New Zealand and SOLGM will likewise, not be making any direct financial contributions to the trial but will be making their staff available to assist with the work.

12. Who is providing the online voting technology?

The local authorities that participate in the trial will jointly choose at least one company to provide the technology to run a secure online election. This is being done through through a robust tender/request for proposal process. Those companies that want to be considered need to meet a set of technical criteria, and will have to demonstrate that they have experience in running a secure online election.

13. Will the system be secure?

The security of the voting system is paramount. We won't proceed if we aren’t confident that we can deliver an online voting system that is equally or more secure than the postal voting system.

No system is ever 100% secure, but we’re working to find an alternative to postal voting with very high levels of security assurance. We’ll be working with IT security experts to ensure stringent auditing, reviewing and penetration testing.

New Zealanders already do lots of things online - like online banking, applying for passports and bank loans, which illustrates how robust our online security processes have become. Similarly, we'll be taking all practicable steps to ensure any online voting security is as secure as possible.

14. How do I know my vote won’t be tampered with?

It is likely that there will be a requirement for the online voting provider to set up a second system that records the vote, and that each voter will be able to access it to determine their vote has been recorded as they intended.

15. How do I know someone won’t impersonate me?

Voters concerned about this will be able to register to receive a notification that an online vote has been cast in their name. If a voter receives such a notice and hasn’t cast that vote themselves, they should contact their local electoral officer immediately.

16. If I cast an online vote, do I also cast a paper vote to confirm my selection?

No. If the election provider receives a paper vote and an online vote from the same voter, then by law they must disqualify both votes. The only exception is where a voter can prove that they didn’t personally cast one of the votes

17. What happens if something goes wrong?

As one of the conditions of participating in the trail, the local authorities, their provider and their electoral officer will be required to have detailed contingency procedures covering matters such as equipment failure, and suspected or real security breaches

18. Is online voting used anywhere else in NZ or overseas?
Online voting is used successfully in many places overseas, particularly in Canada where its use has increased steadily since first implemented in 2003.  

In preparation for participating in the online voting trial the interested councils have reviewed the successes and failures of online voting overseas and are applying lessons learnt to our online voting trial.

Here in New Zealand, online elections have been used to elect members of various producer boards (including Fonterra), companies and iwi authorities. Online voting is even used to conduct the membership component of elections to the Labour Party, and to conduct the ranking of Green Party list candidates.

19. What is the Local Electoral Matters Bill, and why is it important?

The Local Electoral Matters Bill makes a small number of changes that would better support a trial of online voting. If Parliament passes this Bill then local authorities will be able to trial any new voting method on a subset of their voters. Local authorities would be given access to voters’ dates of birth. This is one piece of data local authorities might use to verify a voter is who they say they are. Local authorities will also be given access to data the Electoral Commission keeps on voters age (grouped in five year bands) to help them figure out how effective online voting is.

The Justice Select Committee is currently considering the Bill - we're hoping it will be passed before Christmas.