Australia looks at e-voting

July 12th, 2016 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

ABC reports:

Many Australians do their tax, submit Medicare claims and manage their Centrelink benefits via the internet.

But when it comes to the most fundamental element of our political process – voting – the nation remains rooted in the long held tradition of using a pencil and paper to cast their vote at a primary school or community hall.

Frank Reilly from Arcadia in New South Wales has asked Curious Campaign why voters don’t have access to electronic voting. …

Although the AEC has moved very cautiously with electronic voting, it has trialled electronic voting for the blind and vision impaired, for Defence and Federal Police personnel overseas, and for Australians living in the Antarctic.

The combined costs of the trials at the 2007 election was over $4 million, with the average cost per vote cast of $2,597 for electronically assisted voting for blind and low vision electors, and $1,159 for remote voting for selected defence force personnel. This compared with an average cost per elector of $8.36.

We already have e-voting in NZ. If you live overseas you can scan or photograph your ballot paper and send it to the Electoral Commission via the Internet.

Our questioner, Frank, can take some heart that both the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten have expressed support for some iterations of electronic voting.

I don’t see a need for e-voting for our parliamentary elections as we have fairly high turnout and our current system is very secure.

However I strongly support it as an option for local body elections as e-voting would be much more secure than postal ballots, and turnout is very low for local elections.

Government says no to online voting trial for local body elections

April 19th, 2016 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Louise Upston announced:

Associate Local Government Minister Louise Upston has announced that the online voting trial proposed for this year’s local body elections will not proceed as more work is required to ensure a trial meets public and government expectations.

“Public confidence in local elections is fundamentally important. Given real concerns about security and vote integrity, it is too early for a trial,” says Ms Upston.

Too early? I’d accept that in 2000 or even 2006 but not 2016.

I feel very sorry for the local bodies who have invested time and money into this, to be told no by the Government. The whole point of a trial, is to try it.

Fewer and fewer people use the post office. The turnout will continue to decline for local body elections if the Government continues to make it hard for people to vote. So if there is low turnout, blame the Government for saying no.

35% of people in the NZ Election Study said they would choose to vote online if they had the choice. That is for parliamentary elections, and I suspect it would be even higher for local body elections as postal voting is far more insecure than Internet voting.

No online voting for Auckland

August 30th, 2015 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Aucklanders won’t be able to choose their next council at the click of a mouse.

Local Government Associate Minister Louise Upston confirmed that the country’s biggest city wouldn’t feature in a trial of online voting for next year’s local body elections.

Officials from the Super City are some of the biggest supporters of a digital voting revolution, but Auckland Council’s catchment has been deemed too big.

“A trial that includes all of Auckland and its approximately 1 million electors is simply too large to adequately mitigate these risks,” she said.

I understand the nervousness about having such a big Council s part of the trial, but by excluding Auckland you also run the risk that the trial is uneconomic.

If the Government was willing to contribute towards the costs of a trial, then I think it would be fine to say Auckland is too big to take part. But as the Government has declined to contribute costs, then excluding the largest Council in NZ runs the risk that the trial will not occur.

Stung by a dismal 36 per cent voter turnout in the 2013 elections, Auckland Council has lobbied hard to introduce internet voting.

But its campaign has failed. Applications are now only being sought from smaller councils to provide a range of voting systems.

So far, Porirua, Rotorua, Palmerston North, Matamata-Piako, Selwyn, Marlborough and Whanganui councils have confirmed that they want to be part of the trial.

So four cities and three districts. I’m not sure if they will be able to make it economic. I hope they can, because if there is a sucessful trial, I expect 90% of Councils would then offer an online voting option in future.

Auckland Council bosses are not happy about being sidelined as they consider the council is well placed to take part.

“We were disappointed the Government decided to exclude the council from the online voting trial,” manager democracy services, Marguerite Delbet, said.

The council had been actively working to introduce online voting and this year asked the Government to allow it.

Auckland’s size is a risk, but also a benefit. They have a more well resourced voting unit than most Councils, and I think would have addedvalue to teh trial.

Progress on online voting trial

December 10th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Louise Upston has announced:

The Government has agreed to continue work to enable a small number of local authorities to trial online voting, Associate Minister of Local Government Louise Upston said today.

“The agreement to continue work is in response to requests from local government to trial online voting at the October 2016 local authority elections. The councils that may participate in a trial are still to be determined.”

Ms Upston said it is important to ensure the trial process is secure and fair so public confidence in the integrity of local elections can be maintained.

“It will be up to local councils to ensure the necessary groundwork is in place before any trial can go ahead. Any participating local authority will need to ensure governance and funding arrangements are in place, and ensure their communities are consulted with.”

Ms Upston said central government will maintain some oversight and will work with local government to establish the security requirements for an online voting technology solution. 

“I’ve asked the Department of Internal Affairs to continue to work closely with the local government sector to develop the necessary policy and technical requirements so that online voting could be trialled safely and securely.

Good to see progress on this issue. It would be good to have some local authorities trialling online voting in 2016, so people have the choice of returning their ballot paper by post or via the Internet.

Prizes for voting?

August 16th, 2014 at 4:51 pm by David Farrar

The LA Times reports:

Alarmed that fewer than one-fourth of voters are showing up for municipal elections, the Los Angeles Ethics Commission voted Thursday to recommend that the City Council look at using cash prizes to lure a greater number of people to the polls.

On a 3-0 vote, the panel said it wanted City Council President Herb Wesson’s Rules, Elections and Intergovernmental Relations Committee to seriously consider the use of financial incentives and a random drawing during its elections, possibly as soon as next year.

I think this is a bad thing, to start paying people to vote. If they will only vote because some pays them to, then they obviously do not care very much.

A survey of young people in NZ found that allowing voting over the Internet would motivate more young people to vote, than paying them $50.

Barriers to voting

July 26th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports on likely barriers to voting for the 22% who say they may not vote. In order they are:

  1. Too difficult to get to a polling station 18%
  2. Too busy 8%
  3. Don’t know enough 8%
  4. 5% not interested
  5. 5% dislike politicians and parties
  6. 3% which party wins does not matter

I note that electronic voting would help with the largest factor.

Premature success

October 17th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Well this is a new one for me – a campaign winds up before it even launches, because it has had premature success.

As readers will know I have been advocating a trial of e-voting for local body elections for some time. A few months ago the Government agreed to a trial in 2016 and possible implementation in 2019. This was a welcome decision, but myself and other advocates thought it wasn’t ambitious enough and we decided to launch a campaign next week to try and speed things up. The aim was to use any by-elections as a trial and then get as many Councils as possible in 2016 committing to using e-voting.

Myself and Conor Roberts (ex Len Brown political advisor) were going to be co-spokepsersons (political balance to show not a partisan thing). We had three major city mayors on board, plus other prominent Mayors. We were all set to launch next Monday.

Then Chris Tremain yesterday announced:

Local Government  Minister Chris Tremain says he will be instructing a working party to explore what would be needed for online voting to be fully introduced in the next local  body elections.

Voter turnout at the 2013 election was the lowest ever recorded with a projected figure of around 40 per cent.  Final results will be confirmed by Local Government New Zealand on Thursday.

“Figures as far back as 1962 (see below) show voter turnout at local body elections are traditionally low but I am concerned that it is on a slow decline,” says Mr Tremain. 

“A large number of people work from smart phones and online voting is definitely the way of the future.  However there are risks involved in transferring to an online system, so it is important we clearly understand those risks before making any final decision.  Accessibility for all voters is a critical consideration in any move forward.

“The government has invested in online verification technology, RealMe, which will enable secure authentication of a person’s identity for online voting.

“The working party, which was announced before the recent local body elections, is being tasked with establishing the technical, financial, and security issues involved in online voting.  In addition I will now ask them to explore the possibility of having full online voting available at the next local body elections.  A condition of this must be that an opportunity exists for a significant trial before 2016. 

This is basically the outcome we were after, so we’ve decided there is no point in launching a campaign when we’ve already had premature success and got what we want! I wish we could take credit for it, but the credit goes to Chris Tremain for deciding to prioritise the trial. And it is important we do have a trial – there are security issues to be worked through etc.

“I will also be inviting the Justice and Electoral Committee, who conduct reviews of local and national elections, to investigate other initiatives that will lift voter turnout. 

“Part of this will be considering the confusion created by the single transferable voting system especially when voters are presented with two voting systems on the same voting papers. Another issue that has been raised, post the elections, has been the three week voting timeframe, so it would be timely to consider this as well.

“Online voting will give people more choice but on its own will not solve low voter turnout.”

It will not get people to vote who are not interested in voting. But it will make it easier for people who do want to vote, to vote. The postal system is slowly dying and the future for local body elections will either be ballot box voting or e-voting, or both.

The annoying thing with the campaign being over before it starts, is we don’t get to do the usual celebratory drinks 🙂

The low turnout

October 14th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports on the turnouts being as low as 33% in some major cities:

Left-wing commentator Bryce Edwards said while there generally wasn’t a link between turnout at local body and general elections, both had seen participation fall over time.

The weekend’s low turnout was probably a result of it being a “business as usual election” with “really not much on the line and very little to inspire everyone”. …

Right-wing commentator David Farrar said there was a general downward trend in voter participation worldwide.

He agreed a lack of big political issues had contributed to turnout being low.

But postal voting had also been a significant factor. He knew “half a dozen people” who had forgotten to send off their ballot papers and had to race to the council offices to cast a last-minute vote.

“They have no relationship with a post office . . . and I think each year it’s going to get much worse with postal voting because the postal system is becoming less relevant.”

The Government has agreed to trial internet voting at the next election but Mr Farrar said it was not being implemented fast enough or widely enough.

The Government has agreed to a trial for 2016, and I appreciate the efforts of Chris Tremain in getting this agreed to.

I’ve been involved with this issue since after the 2010 elections where I raised it at the select committee review of the election. I’ve met several Ministers over the issue, and various Mayors and people in Local Government NZ. A huge amount of work has gone on behind the scenes to make e-voting an option for future local body elections (just an option, not to replace postal).  In fact all that is really needed from central Government is some regulations to be passed by Cabinet.

However the Department of Internal Affairs has been incredibly resistant to change, from what I have observed. If it were not for them, we could have been trialing e-voting in 2013.

A trial in 2016 is better than no trial at all. However the massively low turnouts should ring a warning bell that the status quo is not acceptable. Postal voting is a dying technology.

What would be good to see is a sense of priority given to a trial. It is almost inevitable that at next year’s general election some local body people will get elected to Parliament and we will probably have some local body by-elections. It would be highly desirable to trial e-voting at those by-elections so that in 2016 (while still a trial) there is wide-spread use of e-voting in a significant number of local body elections.

I see that Chris Tremain is looking at fast-tracking the trial. That will be an excellent thing if he does.

Online voting for 2016

September 4th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Chris Tremain has announced:

Local Government Minister Chris Tremain today announced that a trial of online voting will take place in the 2016 local authority elections.

“Online transactions are the way of the future and the Government is committed to rolling out digital services for New Zealanders,” says Mr Tremain.

“I have asked the Department of Internal Affairs to put together a working party from across government and local authorities and with information technology experts. They will consider the options, costs and security issues involved in online voting.

“Voter turnout in local body elections is traditionally low and we need to look at other ways to encourage people to become involved in the democratic process.

“Online voting will be more convenient and appeal to young voters. It will also make it easier for people with disabilities to vote. “

“There is a high level of interest from the sector in online voting with organisations like the Porirua City Council and the Manawatu District Council volunteering to take part in the trial.

“Robust regulations need to be in place so voters have trust and confidence in the system. The working party will be assessing the security and technology used in public elections overseas to mitigate risk.

“Once the working party reports its findings the next step will be to formulate a plan to implement online voting in local body elections.

This is great news. Postal voting is a dying mechanism. More and more people have no relationship with a post office. I only post around a letter every three months.

I’ve been involved in pushing for a trial of online voting for local body elections since 2011 and have had numerous meetings about this. The local body sector is keen and enthusiastic. The central government bureaucrats though have, to be blunt, done almost everything possible to never have even a trial.  They seem to be resistant to anything that involves change!

So its great to have the Minister cut through the bureaucratic resistance and announce a definite time-frame of a trial for the 2016 elections. It may even be possible to trial it before then if there are some local body by-elections. Most of the background work needed has already been done through various local government working groups.

I don’t (at this stage) advocate e-voting for parliamentary elections. Enough people are turning up to vote at the ballot box. But for local body elections, an option of online voting is essential to complement postal voting.

Online voting will hopefully both arrest the decline in turnout, but also help people make better informed votes. If voting online, it is much easier to go to candidate’s websites etc as you vote rather than just rely on the 200 word blurbs.

Local Govt e-voting

February 1st, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Katie Chapman at Stuff reports:

Porirua City Council is pushing to be one of the first councils in the country to offer internet voting at this year’s election.

Porirua Mayor Nick Leggett addressed the Justice and Electoral select committee, which was hearing submissions on proposed changes to the local electoral act, this morning.

There, he called on the committee to look at including provisions in the amendment bill, allowing internet voting at local body elections.

E-voting would offer a better way for young people to get involved, he said.

The postal voting system was irrelevant to many young voters – most of whom paid little or no attention to local politics, he said.

”It’s fairly safe to say that most people these days have a greater relationship with the internet … than they do with their post box.

”Younger voters were always the hardest to convince to vote, so making it as easy as possible was an important part of the process.

”We can’t afford to disenfranchise more than one generation of people.

”While young people would still need to be convinced to take an interest, it would remove at least one barrier, he said.

I agree that postal voting is dying as an electoral method. For local government elections we need to at least trial an e-voting option.

As I understand it the current law is flexible enough to allow some local authorities to offer e-voting later this year. All that is needed is for Cabinet to pass some regulations to govern how it is done. This should be done in the first quarter of this year. It is ridiculousness that 16 years after the Internet became widely available in NZ, we are still dragging our heels on this issue.

Internet Voting

April 9th, 2012 at 9:21 am by David Farrar

Geoff Palmer at Stuff reports:

In 2010, Washington DC unveiled its state of the art internet-based electronic voting system.

To demonstrate it, it held a unique public trial: a mock school board election in which people were invited to test the new system and even, they challenged confidently, try to compromise its security. Within days of it going live, an unlisted election candidate – one Bender Bending Rodriguez, also known simply as Bender from the TV series Futurama – was the leading contender, with 100% of the vote.

Which will be used by some as a reason why there should be no Internet voting, but look at the details:

They found an unencrypted copy of every registered voter’s authentication code, and those, combined with the public key used to encrypt the ballots, allowed them to alter every vote already cast and replace any subsequent ones with fakes.

Having the authentication codes unencrypted is a pretty big security hole.

While they were about it, they blocked other attacks coming from New Jersey, India and China, and noticed that hackers from Iran were accessing part of the system via a default admin password (“admin”). 

And that is just incompetence.

There are risks with Internet voting, but they can be minimised and mitigated. You could have (for example) a paper copy print out at Election HQ of every vote cast over the Internet. You can have confirmation e-mails of votes. You can have random audits.

I’m not an advocate of only having Internet voting, but in an era of declining turnouts, having the option to vote over the Internet would help turn that around.


August 12th, 2011 at 9:35 am by David Farrar

Idiot/Savant at No Right Turn blogs:

Parliament unanimously passed the Electoral (Administration) Amendment Bill (No 2) today, making some minor but necessary changes to our electoral administration. During the debate, Labour MP Chris Hipkins argued that we should be looking at introducing electronic voting. On Twitter, he asks for people’s thoughts on the issue.

I have just one: is he fucking mad?

The evidence from overseas is overwhelming: electronic voting can’t be trusted. The machines are black boxes. The software is proprietary. They may be run by people with partisan interests. And they’re hackable (not just in theory – in practice). There’s no way for the count to be audited, and no way to tell if the votes entered by voters are actually being recorded, or just sent to the bit bucket.

Electronic voting means putting elections, a vital part of our democratic infrastructure, in the hands of unaccountable, private entities, with poor security and no transparency. We’ll basically be relying on their goodwill that they won’t fix elections. Oh, and blind faith that they won’t leave a yawning security flaw allowing someone else to. As someone who takes democracy seriously, I don’t think that’s a very good idea.

I/S is thinking that the way the US did electronic voting is the only way. I have been pushing for some time that we should trial e-voting for one or more local body elections. Have the option to vote over the Internet, as well as a postal ballot. So no e-voting use of stand-alone voting machines – just use the Internet.

We do banking and tax over the Internet securely, and I am sure can do voting also. We even have a secure government login service which you can use to register companies etc.

And e-voting can be audit-able. Each person who votes can get an e-mail confirmation of how they voted. You could even audit a random sample of voters to ensure their record of voting matches the central record.

And one could have the code for the e-voting software released publicly, so that experts can verify that it is does what it is meant to do.

So I’m with Chris Hipkins. The time has come to at least be trialling e-voting. The logical opportunity is the 2013 local body elections.

UPDATE: The Government has responded to the Justice and Electoral Select Committee review of the 2010 local body elections. They have said:

  1. The Government will look at amending the Local Electoral Regulations 2001 to enable e-voting, with DIA to look into the merits and practicalities
  2. The Government will explore the option of making the Electoral Commission responsible for the oversight of local authority elections


September 22nd, 2008 at 7:02 am by David Farrar

An article in the NZ Herald on how we will not have e-voting until 2023 at the earliest under current plans. I’m one of those quoted criticising the timetable and advocating we should be moving to trails in the very near future.

Anthony Doesburg points out that groups such as the Teachers Council have sucessfully run online elections with 80.000 voters.

A change I have advocated in the past is that the Chief Electoral Office be put in charge of all local body elections also (working with the local authorities). This change is beneficial in its own right, but would also allow testing of e-voting in one or two areas in 2010.

Online Voting

May 12th, 2008 at 10:08 am by David Farrar

With all the boldness of a very slow turtle, the Chief Electoral Office is talking of trialling online voting in 2014, 2017 and 2020 with a possible implementation in 2023.

I absolutely support a trial before any decisions are made on implementation, but online voting has been discussed and trialled globally since 1996. An 18 year wait until we even trial it is manifestly inadequate.

The 2010 local body elections represent a superb opportunity to trial online voting. As they already use postal voting, there is less of a culture change. You merely include a username and password with their voting letter, and maybe have them get a one time PIN e-mailed to them also.

Now you don’t have to trial it with every local body. Just choose a couple where it really doesn’t matter if the system breaks down – say the Ruapahu District Council.

Online voting has the potential to increase turnout but also increase informed voting. One can have candidates linked to their election pages so people can read about them just before they vote. And considering we have a zero level of security at the moment for voting, online voting can only be more secure. Now again I am not saying rush in and have online voting for 2011 general election, but at a minimum it should be trialled for some 2010 local body elections.

Polish argument against online voting

March 14th, 2008 at 7:21 pm by David Farrar

No wonder there are so many Polish jokes!

WARSAW – Poles should not be allowed to vote online because the internet attracts people who watch “pornography while sipping a bottle of beer”, a former prime minister told his party’s website.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski and other leaders of his conservative party have said they wanted to rejuvenate their ranks and reach out to internet users after losing power last October when younger voters flocked to their centre-right rivals.

Poland’s election commission is floating proposals such as allowing people to vote online to boost turnout.

“I am not an enthusiast of a young person sitting in front of a computer, watching video clips and pornography while sipping a bottle of beer and voting when he feels like it,” he was quoted as saying on his party’s revamped website.

He added that internet users are “the easiest group to manipulate, to suggest who to vote for.”

The Polish PM maybe onto something here. One could combine e-voting with pay per view porn – the porn covering the cost of the election.