Last week the Wellington City Council narrowly voted in favour of a trial for online voting in next year’s local body elections. Finally, the relatively logical step of embracing the new-fangled internet technology to make the process more accessible has been taken.
VUWSA took the step to allow electronic voting a number of years ago and our turnout increased dramatically. Gone are the days of having to hunt down a polling booth and tick a box on an archaic piece of paper, you can simply check your email and vote for next year’s Exec (by the way voting opens at 9am on Tuesday and runs till 5pm on Thursday—make sure you vote).
The frustrating bit about the City Council debate last week was that a number of people—including the more left leaning ones who you’d assume would be in favour of increasing accessibility of democracy—voted against it.
Their rationale was that online voting presented a risk that the elections could be hijacked by hackers thus undermining the process. While online voting systems have new and inherent vulnerabilities, they are in no way insurmountable or that different from the ones that currently exist. Sure, it’s not unfeasible that someone, who really wanted to, could hack the system and manipulate the results.
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But they already can. Local body elections currently rely on a postal ballot, which means that you could either steal a number of voting papers out of letterboxes, or, more simply, just use the ten papers that end up in your flat’s letterbox from people who never updated their details after moving out. The computer systems that are used to count the physical ballot papers are equally susceptible to hacking just as an online system is.
We trust web security enough to do banking, store and email incredibly sensitive documents, and even request or renew passports, all of which present far more lucrative targets for hackers.
Online voting is only just part of the solution to increase engagement in our democratic processes. Ensuring council and councillors are relevant, reflective of the whole population and working effectively for the city is far more important in increasing participation.
But we should be doing all we can to making voting accessible. Online voting is a no-brainer. Cheers to the councillors who voted in favour of doing the trial and help bring our voting systems into this century.
P.S. make sure you vote in the VUWSA Elections this week!