In my speech on the Electoral Administration Bill last Thursday I said that I thought it was time we had a debate about electronic voting. That sparked quite a lot of feedback via Twitter and Facebook, with No Right Turn and Kiwiblog also posting their opposition and support on their blogs. I thought I’d set out my thoughts in a bit more detail here.
The first thing to clarify is that I don’t think we should rush into this. A move to electronic voting will need to be robustly debated, the pros and cons carefully weighed, and if we do decide to proceed, great care will need to be taken to ensure we avoid the pitfalls experienced in many overseas jurisdictions.
But there are a lot of potential benefits to electronic voting that we can’t ignore. A large percentage of those who are eligible to vote but don’t are young people. Electronic voting is likely to appeal to them quite a lot (the Bill we passed last week allows people to enroll to vote and update their enrollment details online, a very welcome step).
Electronic voting also has the potential to improve participation amongst those with disabilities. Blind people can’t complete a secret ballot under current arrangements, and those less mobile also rely on others to ensure they can do their democratic duty. Those temporarily overseas or out of their electorates may also be more inclined to vote if they could do so online.
The downsides and risks are considerable. If an electronic voting system was used it would need to be auditable and recountable. It’s hard to go past paper ballots on both of those counts. The system would also need to be very simple so that voter intention is clearly respected (ie. your vote goes to the candidate or party you think you’re voting for).
I’m no IT expert, but I do all my banking online, do a lot of shopping online, and interact with most of my friends online. Security has improved remarkably in recent years. I’d be surprised if we couldn’t design a robust, fair and transparent voting system using electronic means. Let’s have the debate. If it improves participation, why wouldn’t we?