The low turnout

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.

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