The bal­lot box we know

The Northland Age - - Opinion - Danielle van Dalen

When on­line bank­ing was in­tro­duced, Dad was scep­ti­cal. He wor­ried there would be prob­lems with se­cu­rity, ac­cess and us­abil­ity. His sus­pi­cion didn’t last long though, and he quickly learnt to ap­pre­ci­ate the con­ve­nience.

Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment NZ wants to bring this kind of on­line con­ve­nience to lo­cal elec­tions to help bol­ster dwin­dling voter turnouts, an­nounc­ing a trial of on­line vot­ing sys­tems in next year’s lo­cal elec­tions. The re­al­ity is that go­ing on­line is not only un­likely to im­prove turnout, but also opens up the se­ri­ous risk of un­der­min­ing trust in our demo­cratic process.

Voter turnout for lo­cal body elec­tions is con­sis­tently and dis­ap­point­ingly low. In 2016, for ex­am­ple, 42 per cent of el­i­gi­ble vot­ers took part, com­pared with 79 per cent in last year’s gen­eral elec­tion.

On­line vot­ing won’t nec­es­sar­ily fix this. Stats NZ at­tempted its first on­line cen­sus ear­lier this year, re­sult­ing in the low­est par­tic­i­pa­tion na­tion­ally for the past five sur­veys. Over­seas, voter turnout in the 2003 trial of on­line vot­ing in the UK had mixed re­sults: turnout in­creased by 20 per cent in one elec­tion and dropped by two per cent in an­other. A re­port from the BBC claimed on­line vot­ing “failed to make much of an im­pact”.

Despite this, bring­ing elec­tions into the 21st cen­tury could help re­move bar­ri­ers to vot­ing, for peo­ple with vi­sion im­pair­ments, for ex­am­ple. But while mak­ing it eas­ier for all New Zealan­ders to par­tic­i­pate in the demo­cratic process is crit­i­cal, ac­ces­si­bil­ity isn’t the real prob­lem. The ev­i­dence sug­gests that dis­en­gage­ment, not ac­ces­si­bil­ity, pri­mar­ily de­ter­mines voter turnout. Go­ing on­line won’t change this.

And it’s dan­ger­ous to our democ­racy. Fol­low­ing the an­nounce­ment of the New Zealand trial, IT ex­perts ob­jected, claim­ing that on­line vot­ing sys­tems are at much greater risk of abuse from hack­ers, mal­ware and ma­nip­u­la­tion, abuse that is in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult to rec­tify. If these vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties were at­tacked, the pub­lic trust in the le­git­i­macy of the elec­tion, that we know our vote truly counts, would suf­fer. Lev­els of trust im­pacts voter turnout; “dis­trust­ing cit­i­zens are less mo­ti­vated to cast a vote”. Un­like on­line bank­ing, the le­git­i­macy of our democ­racy is at stake, and once it’s breached we can’t turn back the clock. As Ja­son Kit­cat, de­vel­oper of an on­line vot­ing sys­tem, ex­plains, “On­line bank­ing suf­fers prob­lems, but re­funds are pos­si­ble af­ter check­ing your bank state­ment . . . you can’t ‘re­fund’ a vote, and ‘vote state­ments’ can’t be pro­vided to check your vote was cor­rectly recorded, as that would en­able vote sell­ing and co­er­cion.”

Dad was right to em­brace on­line bank­ing, but we should re­main sus­pi­cious here. If the trade-off for on­line vot­ing is be­tween a ques­tion­able im­prove­ment in turnout ver­sus a se­ri­ous risk to trust in our democ­racy, trust should win. The bal­lot box and pen and pa­per may be in­con­ve­nient, but at least we can trust them. Lo­cal gov­ern­ments should think of other ways to im­prove en­gage­ment be­tween elec­tions.

"A re­port from the BBC claimed on­line vot­ing “failed to make much of an im­pact."

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.