Huge increase in overseas votes because of e-voting

One of the debates around the proposed e-voting trial for nine local government elections next year is whether allowing e-voting over the Internet increases turnout. In some cases it hasn’t, in a couple it has. But overseas comparisons are less useful than a NZ comparison, and as it happens we have some very strong data on what an option to cast your vote via the Internet does to turnout.

For the 2014 and 2017 general elections the Electoral Commission has allowed overseas voters to cast their vote via the Internet. Basically they take a photo or scan of their completed ballot paper and upload it via the EC website.

So what has this option done to the number of overseas votes in general elections?

So around 20,000 overseas votes in 2011 and 60,000 in 2017. That is a huge change.

But maybe it is just more people everywhere voted in these elections. So let’s look at overseas voters as a percentage of total turnout.

So the proportion of overseas voters has gone from just under 1% to almost 2.5%.

But is this because overseas voters are using the Internet option? Maybe they’re faxing their votes in. Let’s look at the breakdown for each MMP election.

So very obvious it is the additional option of voting via the Internet that has led to the increase. Also it doesn’t seem to be at the expense of those voting in person at an overseas post. In fact they have increased since 2011 also.  It is fax and postal that is dying off.

To me this means that there isn’t a case to have e-voting available domestically for parliamentary elections. We have high turnout for these, and most NZers are close to a polling place.

But local body elections only have an option of postal voting or popping into a council office. The evidence from overseas voting for our last two general elections suggests that an Internet option could well lead to significant increase in turnout.

And that of course is what a trial is about. We’ll be able to see if turnout increases for those Councils that offer this option.

Internet voting has risks of course. But this data also show potentially considerable benefits. The challenge is to maximise the benefits and minimise the risks.

Comments (52)

Login to comment or vote

Add a Comment