Working group nixes drive for online voting in 2016

Recommending a trial over a broad rollout, a working group finds that online voting systems can never be fully secure, but should be "secure enough" to support their use

A working party has recommended online voting trials be conducted in New Zealand local body elections in 2016, but concluded broad availability is "not feasible" for that election round.

The working party, established last September, was a a response to calls from the Justice and Electoral Committee of Parliament, some local authorities, Local Government New Zealand and the New Zealand Society of Local Government Managers to conduct a trial of online voting for local authority elections.

"We do not think that broad implementation of an online voting option in the 2016 local elections is feasible."

It was asked to consider the options, costs, and security issues involved in online voting and the feasibility of implementing it for New Zealand’s 2016 local elections.

The working group decided a broad roll out is not feasible as the 2016 election will be the first real opportunity to conduct a trial of what could be relatively untested technology.

International experiences with online voting are limited, the report says, with information available from just 11 countries where it had been considered, trialed or implemented.

"These experiences have been both good and bad. We think it is important to acknowledge that the New Zealand experience will be different. We are a small, multicultural nation with different electoral systems and New Zealand has been using postal voting in local elections for over 20 years," the report says.

The report finds overall online voting is feasible and desirable as it could make the voting process easier and faster, increase the speed and accuracy of obtaining results and could reduce costs of local elections.

However, 2016 is too soon for a full rollout.

"We do not think that broad implementation of an online voting option in the 2016 local elections is feasible. Our analysis indicates that a staged approach allows all parties and stakeholders to become familiar with the opportunities and challenges presented by online voting, whilst also supporting the effective management of delivery risks in line with experience."

The working party found that testing and smaller scale trials before this date will be important, but there are no trials that would be significant enough to adequately test an online voting system’s capability to cope with the complexity of local elections outside of the triennial local elections.

"We recognise that the local government sector wants to move faster and we share the sector’s enthusiasm. However, working towards a trial of online voting in 2016 creates the best chance of success and will still require significant commitments from both central government and local government. 

The report also found that securing online voting is "critical, but not easy". 

"We recognise that the local government sector wants to move faster and we share the sector’s enthusiasm."

"No ICT system is perfect, and absolute security on the internet is not achievable. Online voting systems should be 'secure enough' to support their use and that this judgement should be supported by a detailed threat analysis which is developed and maintained throughout the delivery process.

Associate local government minister Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga said the Department of Internal Affairs would analyse the working party's recommendations and report back to Cabinet in November.

“It is essential for us to examine carefully the associated costs, practicalities and most importantly the security of online voting,” Lotu-Iiga said.

Last week, the Australian Electoral Commission warned  it did not have the capability to carry out an e-voting trial ahead of the next Federal elections there.