Voting papers won’t be the only option for Nelsonians if an online voting trial goes ahead. Photo: File.

Online voting trial back on agenda for council election

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Online voting could be back on the agenda for Nelson at next year’s local elections, if central government helps to keep costs down.

With a 53 per cent voter turnout in 2016, an online voting option in 2019 could help boost that number, with Nelsonians having the option of voting from their computer, tablet or smart phone, as well as the current postal forms.

But a financial contribution from central government would make or break the trial for Nelson, says mayor Rachel Reese, who is keeping “a close eye” on progress.

Submissions on the Local Electoral Matters Bill currently going through parliament closed in June, and any details of an online voting trial, including costs, are still being confirmed.

Although there is no Long Term Plan funding for a trial in 2019, Rachel says a trial for Nelson hasn’t been ruled out.

“At present we are waiting on the Department of Internal Affairs to provide an update. Once we have that information and advice, we can consider the costs and options available for a trial in Nelson in 2019. I would hope that councils can work together to keep costs down.”

A proposed trial of online voting was narrowly turned down by Nelson City Council for the 2016 election, largely because of the cost. It was also axed nationally, due to last minute security concerns.

That trial was expected to cost councils between $50,000 and $100,000, on top of the $100,000 it already costs to hold an election.

Second-term Nelson councillor Brian McGurk, who voted against the 2016 trial for the reason of it being “too expensive and rushed”, says if the current proposal looked good, he would be “positive and open” to the idea.

“If people can have a better voting experience, can vote more easily and efficiently, are more confident that their vote will be correctly counted, then there is potential to increase voter turnout, increase voter confidence and renew interest in the political system and voting,” he says.

“An added benefit would be that people who are away from their homes would be able to vote.”

Abbey Paterson, student president at SANITI represents and works for and on behalf of all students at NMIT, and says online voting would engage a new generation of voters.

“It would definitely help. For younger people who are busy studying and have time commitments, it flips off their radar to fill in and post voting forms,” she says.

“I’ve talked to students who all think it’s a great idea. We could promote it through social media with a link they can just click on to vote. It would be a lot easier to push.”

Chairperson of SeniorNet Nelson, Carl Horn, says that if the system was designed properly, they would be willing to help both members and the public to use it.

The organisation has over 500 members and was involved with assisting people with the online census this year.

Meanwhile, Rachel says she will be bringing a mayor’s report to council to “test their appetite” for online voting, as soon as they have the information from the DIA.

“As The Smart Little City, it makes sense to me if DIA give it the green light and costs are manageable.”