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.