Councils peel away from online voting trial

Marlborough is the latest local council to opt out of a proposed trial of online voting in New Zealand.

Three local and district councils have opted out of a broad trial of online voting in New Zealand, citing concern over security and costs.

Marlborough District Council this week joined Dunedin City Council and Christchurch city Council in voting down the proposed trial, while New Zealand's biggest city, Auckland, has already been deemed to large to take part.

Last year, a working party nixed plans for a broad roll-out of online voting and instead recommended trials of the "relatively untested" technology be conducted in the 2016 local body elections.

Thirteen councils, including the ones that are now backing out, expressed initial support for taking part in the trail. However, South Island councils in particular appear to be expressing increased concern about the proposal.

Christchurch rejected the trial after a phalanx of IT security experts fronted council with overseas examples of online voting system failures.

Auckland's free pass out of the trial seemed to sway some councilors as well.

Why, councilor Glenn Livingstone asked, was a trial deemed to be appropriate for other councils when it was not for Auckland? In the end the vote was not even close, with 12 councilors voting against participation to one in favour.

Voting was closer in Dunedin at 10 against to four in favour with increased costs the major concern. Marlborough District council also appears to have been swayed by the cost of the trial.

Wellington City Council narrowly voted to take part, with seven councilors in favour to six against. It joins other North Island councils such as Porirua, Whanganui, Rotorua, Palmerston North and Matamata Piako in taking part.

The Mayor of Wellington, Celia Wade-Brown, says Wellington uses online mechanisms as a way of increasing participation in council processes so it made sense for the city to take part in the online voting pilot., which was selected to run the trial reassured councilors its system is secure..

"We commissioned two different organisations to run penetration tests on our software," managing director Steve Kilpatrick told Radio NZ. "These take something like five man weeks each and they cost an awful lot of money.

"They are a very, very thorough process to go through."

Dr Andy Asquith, a local government specialist with Massey University's School of Management, has questioned whether online voting actually increases voter turnout. New South Wales elections in Australia have been quoted as an example of online voting success, but voting there is compulsory anyway, he pointed out.

Even in that example, voting had to be temporarily suspended after academics found a vulnerability they said could allow votes to be manipulated. That issue was later played down by officials, who said human error was to blame, not the system.

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