A report released today from the Online Voting Working Party raises concerns that a significant number of people could miss out if New Zealand were to proceed with ‘online-only’ voting in the 2016 local authority elections. While the 2013 World Internet Project concludes that 92% of New Zealanders use the Internet, the 2013 Census suggests a somewhat different picture with only 76.8% of all households with access to the Internet. These national statistics present a distorted view of reality – in some regions as many as 50% households do not have access to the internet.
This is the challenge that New Zealand must address – ensuring all households have internet access and all communities have the confidence to vote online. Otherwise moving to ‘online-only’ voting would be like putting the cart before the horse.
The Working Party is suggesting a cautious approach to online voting, with a trial in 2016 that is complementary to postal or booth voting. The report does not suggest when the right time might be to move on ‘online-only’ voting. This might be realistic but a little disappointing – without a clear goal and timeframe, it will be hard to secure the necessary commitment from stakeholders. To drive on New Zealand roads, people need to sit a competency test and procure a licence. If New Zealand is serious about moving to online voting, we need to adopt a similar approach for our digital roads. We need to put our efforts into ensuring all New Zealanders are digitally competent and able to participate in the online world – this includes voting.
The 2020 Trust’s ICDL initiative provides a digital literacy competency test; if all New Zealanders were encouraged to aspire to this benchmark, we could confidently progress towards an online voting future and achieve gains in both democratic participation as well as in reduced costs to the taxpayer.