Low turnouts and online voting

Local body election turnouts have been very low again, with most on the low forties – Auckland couldn’t even make 40%, in part probably due to the fact that Phil Goff was always anointed by media as a shoe in.

General election turnouts have been declining for some time as well.

In the modern world where communities and media are so fragmented is it possible to ever get any semblance of civic pride back? Most people simply don’t care about local body elections in particular.

Even those who do think they should vote struggle to front up – like me.

I filled in my voting papers with difficulty on Saturday morning and delivered them half an hour before closing (thanks DCC for having people with voting boxes picking up votes from cars in the Octagon).

A mixture of not knowing anything about most of the candidates and an awfully difficult and confusing system of voting makes procrastination easy. I seriously considered not bothering to vote.

I voted on four things.


Eleven candidates to choose from. The incumbent was very unlikely to lose, and there was a lack of strong alternatives. Under STV ranking them 1-11 was easy enough.


Forty three bloody candidates that require ranking. This is a major task to do anything other than randomly.

I started by numbering those I didn’t want elected from 43 up.

Then I numbered ones that I supported starting from 1 then working my way down.

Then I had about thirty in the middle to decide on. This became increasingly random as I worked my way up and down. Then the sequences didn’t meet in the middle, so i had miscounted somewhere.

And I didn’t care. I knew that would invalidate my vote from where I stuffed up and I didn’t care whether that was near the top or the bottom of the sequence. I just gave up.

Community Board

This was easier, with ‘only’ 12 to rank. I hardly knew anything about most of them but I looked at their pictures and read their blurb and took a stab.

Regional Council

I thought this was relatively easy, with only 10 candidates. I even knew one of them and knew of one or two others. So I ranked them. Then the fine print was pointed out to me – all the others were STV votes but the Regional Council isn’t, so I should have just ticked the six I wanted!

So I scribbled out my ranks and ticked beside them. I don’t care if that counted or not.

There must be a better way to vote.

Postal Voting

Postal voting was introduced to try and stem the decline in turnout, unsuccessfully.

There are significant flaws with postal voting.

It is common for people not to change their electoral roll addresses, especially in a university town like Dunedin. Many papers arrive at addresses where the voters don’t live any more. I received papers for someone who hasn’t lived here for several elections.

A stupid thing about enrolling is you are sent a letter by the Electoral Commission saying that if you don’t live there any more then let them know. I’m not sure how you are supposed to get this letter.

If there is no reply they assume you must still live there. This is nuts.

Postal voting is ideal for procrastinators – it’s very easy to put off voting until tomorrow. An and when it’s too late it doesn’t matter, you don’t know most of the people others voted in anyway.

Online Voting

There are strong supporters of line voting, and also strong opponents.

A trial of online voting was seriously considered by some cities and regions this election, but that fell through.

Lynn Prentice appears to not favour online voting: Online voting – the only choice for idiots

As a  computer programmer and someone who has been involved in politics for decades, I’m always amazed at idiots like Malcolm Alexander of the LGNZ talking about something that they clearly don’t understand the technicalities of. Online voting is way too fragile to roll out. And anyway young voters are still going to not have their voting details at hand.

In his language an idiot is someone he disagrees with, and I’m sure he’s called me an idiot more than once already.

I don’t think online voting could be much worse than postal voting, and you might get more people voting.

At the very least I think we should have online tools to help us vote, especially in the complex local body elections.

An app an a website that made it easy to rank (and show you where a tick was required) candidates would have made voting much easier for me, especially if it included candidate information along with links to their websites, Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. Then some real research would be possible.

You can’t just stick a pin in a smart phone.

Online could also randomise the candidates so the Andersons don’t get an unfair advantage over the Willamsons. The voting papers are randomised, but when the Candidate Information booklets are in alphabetic order this adds to the voting confusion.

If I could rank candidates online, then read the results and write them onto my voting papers I think I would put much more effort into voting.

As things are now Lotto is much easier to play than local body voting – and the chances of a good result are about the same.

There must be a better way. I don’t think a properly designed online system would be any worse than what we currently have. Sure it could be abused, but so can postal voting, and I don’t think the proportions of vote cheating would be significant in most elections.

Leave a comment


  1. Your biggest mistake with STV was thinking you had to rank them all. You don’t. And if there are people you definitely don’t want the best thing you can do is not rank them at all.
    Re the app/ information website, good idea. My own project in Hawke’s Bay was to track down the website and Facebook pages of candidates for the seven councils and health board that cover the region and promote my blog lists via Facebook. Think of it as my contribution to democracy 🙂 It surprised me how few sites there were given the accepted wisdom that the intenet is the haunt of the young and we need to get more young people involved.

    • You don’t have to rank them all. You only have to rank one. I know that.

      But if you want to do your best to exclude certain candidates then you have to rank them at the bottom, or at least well down the list, so your vote counts for someone else.

      If you only rank one person and no one else, and that person misses the cut,then your vote won’t against someone you don’t want in.

  2. duperez

     /  10th October 2016

    I saw somewhere a person saying that they couldn’t find out about the candidates, understand what to do and it was all too hard.

    Voting is so hard but expecting those elected onto local bodies to sort out all the problems of the districts is easy. And those fortunate enough to be elected will find it easy to come up with and implement solutions, and growth, and progress and keep rates the same.

    Reading about the Kardashians and finding out about them is higher on the priority list. Spending energy on pontificating about issues we cannot affect is higher on the priority list.

    And now a couple of years of nodding of heads when the lead channels of disagreement, Hosking, Henry and Garner tell those who actually did put themselves up, that they’re doing a crappy job.

    The problem is not the method of voting. The problem is priorities. We all know what needs to be done, we know best, we have the answers, we want to have our say but they are way ahead of actually doing the simplest thing to be involved. We can’t be bothered actually doing something. That’s what needs to change.

    Well done to all those who were elected and those who tried but missed.

  3. Alan Wilkinson

     /  10th October 2016

    The problem is simply the cost of sufficient information vs the return for most people.

    The electorates are too big and the performance and accountability of the individuals and organisations too opaque for voting to be much more than random guesswork for anyone outside the inner circles of the respective organisations.

    Most people who do participate do so out of a sense of civic duty rather than feeling they really know what they are doing or that anything hangs or will change in consequence.

    That is the simple and obvious truth. The only solution is greater accountability and transparency. Some kind of independent and high quality ERO/Treasury reports on councils should be introduced.

  4. Ray

     /  10th October 2016

    I note one who calls for online voting ” will not vote till it is online” has the reputation of being the hacker rawshark!
    Not sure if that is going to work

  5. Chris

     /  10th October 2016

    I agree with Duncan that you don’t need to rank the lot. I only ranked the ones who I wanted in there.
    Perhaps with the very low voter turnout it shows that the majority of people don’t care who their councilors or Major are. So perhaps a change could be made where only those involved in paying rates should be able to vote, in other words those who have a vested interest in making sure the right candidates are selected, as I have a sneaking suspicion that those who vote on the whole would be more than likely be property owners.

  6. That’s “shoo in”, the opposite of “shoo away”.

    Not to be confused with toeing the line, of course.

  7. Zedd

     /  11th October 2016

    online voting should be seriously considered.. else ‘apathy’ reigns not ok


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