Wellington residents are usually the first to give their opinions on the various issues that affect our region; including transport, roading, housing and the environment – yet voter turnout is currently at an all time low for this years local body elections.
The elections roll around every three years, with constituents given the chance to vote for a mayor and council, community boards, the District Health Board and Greater Wellington Regional Council.
With voting papers needing to be returned to the electoral office before noon on October 12. and time running out, many areas in the region will struggle to crack a 20% return of ballots.
Wellington is not the only area where the candidates have failed to capture the imaginations of constituents. Low voter turnout is a nationwide issue in 2019, with less than one-fifth of eligible voters returning their ballot papers in many places.
Every local government election there are those who advocate for online voting as a fix for dismal voter engagement.
But while the convenience would no doubt be popular with many, online voting would not solve the historical low turnout rates, says Dr Julienne Molineaux from the Auckland University of Technology.
“Overseas experience is that online voting tends to be popular with those who are already likely to vote and who have high levels of digital literacy.
“It does little to help add new people to the voter pool, and this holds even for young voters.”
Dr Molineaux says the reason most people don’t vote in local government elections has little to do with the technology used – be it post or digital technology.
Non-voters are not a homogenous group and reasons they give for not casting their ballots include:
• Not being interested in politics or local government;
• Low levels of civics literacy, such as not knowing an election was on, or how to enrol or vote;
• Wanting to vote but not having enough information about candidates, policies or issues to complete the ballot.
Dr Molineaux says shifting the ballot from paper to a screen would not help solve these problems. A lack of information is an important hurdle, even for those who see voting as socially desirable.
“The local government ballot is very complex and the lack of political party branding makes decision-making hard, even for those who follow politics.
“Having the ballot on a screen will not reduce decision-making hurdles, nor reduce cynicism among people who have switched off from politics.”
Dr Molineaux says the security risks of online voting should also not be under-estimated.
“IT security experts are unanimous that voting systems are vulnerable to hacking and corruption.”
Dr Molineaux is a researcher at The Policy Observatory, based at the Auckland University of Technology. She has recently updated her paper: Solving and Creating Problems: Online Voting in New Zealand.