AUT online election turnout low

If online voting proponents hope it will increase voter turnout they will have been disappointed by the first such election in New Zealand.

If online voting proponents hope it will increase voter turnout they will have been disappointed by the first such election in New Zealand.

The Auckland University of Technology Students Association used internet voting for the election of officials last month but the hoped-for increase in turnout didn't occur.

Fewer than 1000 of 15,000 students eligible to vote bothered to do so. They could vote on any of hundreds of PCs and a laptop on campus, or any internet-connected PC.

Despite the underwhelming voter response, association president Michael Heard says he is happy with how the election went. Students appreciated being able to vote from home, and “we will be using online voting again”.

“All [internet] systems worked perfectly well, though some data given to us had typos. This meant we had to extend voting for a week and use paper voting for the 2% of students affected,” he says.

The poll was run by the Christchurch-based arm of US online voting company Election.com. Company head Steve Kilpatrick says the system uses a browser and encrypted connection to a database at the company's New York headquarters. When students logged on to vote, their details were electronically checked against a roll before they could proceed.

For the handful of people whose details were incorrect, Kilpatrick says they were able to vote using special student IDs, or by paper, which still went through the internet system. The online method also allowed late changes to the ballot and gave results within minutes.

Kilpatrick’s former company, Accent Computer Services of Christchurch, ran local body elections and handled 708,000 votes in 1998. It was taken over by Election.com in July. Kilpatrick says internet voting was used in the first legally binding election in March for the Democratic Party in Arizona. Overseas, Election.com handles elections for credit unions, trade unions and private companies, as well as public sector ballots.

A constitution change is required for private organisations in this country to conduct internet voting, but for local and central government elections it would require a change in the law. The government is reviewing election legislation after the counting delays of last November and Election.com plans to make a submission. Kilpatrick says the review was to take submissions before Christmas, with legislation passed by next May. He hopes internet voting can be used in 2002.

“We are not holding our breath too much. We are going to look at the private sector,” he says.

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