Wanted: volunteers for voting trial

The New Zealand Electronic Electoral Trial is looking for volunteers to take part in the beta trial of its electronic voting forum. As long as you have access to either an Internet connection or a touch-tone phone, and have a little spare time, you can be part of an electronic revolution.

Dragging New Zealand’s voters into the electronic age is a cumbersome business, but voting via your PC or touch-tone phone is perhaps closer than you think.

The New Zealand Electronic Electoral Trial is looking for volunteers to take part in the beta trial of its electronic voting forum. As long as you have access to either an Internet connection or a touch-tone phone, and have a little spare time, you can be part of an electronic revolution.

“We don’t want to attract just one demographic and end up with skewed results,” says project director Rex Widerstrom.

Widerstrom, who has been a consultant to four political parties, wants to see a broad range of people taking part, from the computer-savvy through to “people like my parents, who don’t go near a computer if they can help it”.

Widerstrom plans to run an alpha test shortly, followed by a larger beta test. The alpha test was to have run late last year, but technology has caught up with the NZEET team in the form of a German tool. Tele-o-Log should allow policy papers to be posted, debates to be held and the like. Widerstrom decided to hold off with the alpha test until this tool can be incorporated. The New Zealand Internet Institute, run out of Victoria University, will help co-ordinate the trial, which will consist of a mock poll, referendum and a mock election.

Keeping a close eye on proceedings is Ryan Rigby, a senior business analyst with NZ Post. “We’ll be very interested to see just what the trial produces.”

Rigby is interested because NZ Post provides a third of New Zealand’s electoral triumvirate. Combined with the Electoral Office, which is charged with keeping the public informed about elections, and the Chief Electoral Office, which actually runs each election, NZ Post keeps the electoral roll up to date. Rigby sees some advantages in holding an electronic election.

“Cost is the obvious issue — each election runs into the millions of dollars. If we can keep the cost down and still provide the service, we’re on to a winning thing.”

Widerstrom agrees. “Referenda are expensive events, that’s why you need at least 250,000 signatures to get one started. If we can halve the cost of holding a referendum then we could also reduce the number of signatures needed. More people could get their issues into parliament, which is what democracy is all about.”

Rigby is in the process of his own electronic voting project. “We’re upgrading our Web site so voters can check to see if they are enrolled properly.”

NZEET can be found at www.polemic.net/nzeet.html - check your listing on the electoral roll at www.elections.org.nz.

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