Let’s Hear It For Up-Close-And-Personal, Hard-Copy Democracy!



WHY ARE RETURNING OFFICERS coming out so strongly for on-line voting? Of all the people in the world willing to advocate for a system of voting so absurdly vulnerable to interference and corruption, returning officers should be the very last. And yet, all week, as fears of a record low voter turnout in this latest round of local government elections have grown, it is returning officers who are among the keenest to give on-line voting a try.

The curious fact about this clamour for on-line voting is that its proponents are offering it as a cure for declining voter participation. Young people, notorious for their poor record for joining-in the democratic process, are seen as the group most likely to benefit from this supposed panacea. Missing from the debate, however, is the voting system that produces turn-out figures ranging from 77 to 93 percent of registered voters. The voting system used to collect and count the votes cast in our parliamentary elections. The one that involves citizens making their way to a polling station, marking their ballot-papers privately in a polling-booth, and then depositing them personally in a sealed ballot-box.

This was, after all, the way New Zealanders used to vote in local body elections. Why was it abandoned? Ironically, because voter turn-out was falling, and it was thought that allowing people to fill out their ballot papers at home, over a fortnight, and then pop them in the post, would make the whole process easier, less stressful and more efficient. Predictably, there was a slight up-tick in electoral participation, followed by another slow decline in voter numbers.

Interestingly, the obvious weaknesses in postal voting were never taken particularly seriously by its proponents. That it essentially did away with the idea that casting a vote was something every citizen had a right to do, alone, in a polling-booth, where they could be safe from the influence of husbands, wives, other family members, and (thinking once again of younger voters) flatmates, was not considered a serious enough defect to rule postal voting out of contention.

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The thought that a domineering husband and/or authoritarian mother might commandeer their family’s voting papers and cast them all themselves never appears to have crossed the reformers’ minds. Nor, apparently, the possibility that a flat full of apathetic youngsters might simply invite the one member of the household interested in politics to cast their votes for them.

Exactly the same indifference to the possibility that an election’s final outcome may not be an accurate reflection of the electorate’s will is noticeable in the campaigners for on-line voting.

Similar indifference has been shown by those in charge of the 2019 local government elections to the steadily declining efficacy of the New Zealand Post Office. When postal voting was introduced in 1992, the Internet was largely restricted to boffins and geeks. The mail was delivered on every day of the week except Sunday, and a posted letter could travel from one end of the country to the other more-or-less overnight. Over the course of the last 27 years, however, the time taken for a letter to reach its addressee has increased from one or two days to approximately a week. Likewise, the time taken for ballot papers to be delivered and returned. It will be interesting to discover how many 2019 ballot papers, posted no later than 5 days out from the vote-count (as advised) nevertheless arrive after mid-day on Saturday, 12 October. Since NZ Post no longer date stamps letters, it will be impossible to sort out which ballot papers should be counted and which disallowed. There is a real possibility that hundreds – perhaps thousands – of citizens will end up being disenfranchised by New Zealand’s sclerotic postal service.

The nation’s returning officers will, of course, object that anyone who forgets to post their ballot papers can always deposit them by hand in one of the ballot boxes situated in the local library and at the town hall. In other words, to overcome the growing challenges associated with running an efficient postal voting system, our returning officers have set up what are effectively polling-booths to cater for the stragglers.

Honestly, it’s enough to make you wonder why we just don’t admit that postal-voting, never a particularly good idea, has failed, and return to the original – and by far the most secure – method of discovering the electorate’s will. It could hardly be worse than the present system, and it certainly beats the heck out of sending your vote into the void of cyberspace, where neither you – nor the returning officers of the nation – have the slightest notion of where it has been sent, what happened to it there, and on whose behalf, before it ends up as a configuration of pixels blinking mindlessly on some private-sector contractor’s computer screen.

Stealing a hard-copy election is surprisingly difficult and very hard to hide. Stealing an on-line election, however, is a much easier proposition. If it’s done properly, no one but the people who paid for the hack will ever know.




  1. Democracy is a hollow sham. Even with the Carbon Zero Act, thousands of public submissions have had to give way to lobbyists from the opposition. Of all the people and of all the party’s. If there is a more direct way to change things up voting won’t do it. That’s why I will welcome our new Extension Rebellion overlords with open arms.

  2. Good on you Chtis!

    Silence from the corrupt mainstream media on the dodgy postal voting system that I also think should be abandoned.

    We should have a polling booth vote on one day, as with national elections.

    One person. One vote on paper.

    Electronic voting is so easily interfered with it is another bsd joke.

    I was shocked to disvover this week that the private company running Auckland’s postal election is already opening votes cast without the candidates’ scrutineers being present. I couldn’t believe how corrupt this behaviour is.

    How can anyone trust the “results” of this election?

    Genevieve Forde
    Candidate for Auckland mayor

    • That is shocking, if true, private practise for profit, should not be running elections and without scrutineers!

      “I was shocked to disvover this week that the private company running Auckland’s postal election is already opening votes cast without the candidates’ scrutineers being present. I couldn’t believe how corrupt this behaviour is.”

  3. The declining vote in “advanced democracies” is a global phenomenon which has very little to do with the form of the voting process (polling booth, postal or on-line) and is largely a result of public disillusionment with and distrust of politicians and the political system.
    The only realistic solution is radical transformation of the political system. Those reforms will require on-line public input and an open ballot.
    The only problem is that radical reform will spell the doom of the corrupt political class which currently rules the western “democracies”.
    Therefore the initiative for change will not come from within the present system. The politicians may desperately tinker around the edges of the system – lowering the voting age, trialing on-line voting and so on – but none of that will restore public confidence in a fundamentally rotten system.

    • +1 “a global phenomenon which has very little to do with the form of the voting process (polling booth, postal or on-line) and is largely a result of public disillusionment with and distrust of politicians and the political system.”

      Wonder why, when free trips to China for Mayors and $100k for a political donation can help secure a list MP seat. sarcasm.

  4. What a joke. Recipe for ending democracy by cheating.

    Seriously so easy to compromise online voting. Just took this 11 year old, ten minutes in the US

    An 11-year-old changed election results on a replica Florida state website in under 10 minutes

    With the councils and government’s history of not only not being able to implement workable IT, have any sort of security and massive budget blow outs on IT, does not sound like a good idea, even if you could secure online voting (which all the top IT experts agree, it’s not safe).


    More billions to waste on IT for the supercity?

    The Super City has spent $1.24 billion on IT since it was formed in 2010 – enough money to pay for the council’s half share of the $2.5 billion city rail link.


  5. Good on you Chris. The call for online voting seems to be well orchestrated. How anybody could think it could be kept secure is a joke. Absolutely no ability to do a recount or check against irregularities. The irregularities cited above should give pause to anyone considering online voting as it is way easier to manipulate than the already dodgy postal vote.

  6. Reality is people are so disaffected and feel let down by all forms of government no doubt the establishment is desperate to sustain some semblance of credibility by making it as easy to vote as possible. Labour a while back tabled doing what Australia has done to its voting public. Compelling people to vote by imposing fines for not voting. Currently around $70 AUD.

    Of course there’s nothing to stop someone drawing genitalia on a voting slip so that’s all bullshit too but its doesn’t stop them from try to strong arm voters into supporting the status quo.

    Fact us change is now I believe inevitable and its time for the political establishment to starting listening to the people who pay for them to do their job like it or not.

  7. The votes of eligible electors who do not vote should be taken as support for the incumbent. Then there would be a reason to vote if the incumbent was not what one wanted !

    • Oh yeah, a vote for nobody is a vote for Phil Goff… or it could be which is what I believe is happening, a vote for nobody is a vote that nobody is worth voting for because only two candidates with similar policies and ideas were promoted that nobody wanted to vote for.

  8. The day our electoral law changes to allow online voting will be the last nail in the neo liberal stranglehold.
    This would be highly dangerous and open to obvious fraud and corruption.
    Kiwis were sold the idea that deregulating the economy was the answer to all our problems and yet we live in a country that is one of the most deregulated in the free market world but there is no real competition just look at the supermarket duopoly.
    After 30 years of this bullshit this economic system that encourages voter apathy that is one of its strengths.
    Low turnout has nothing too do with the actual vote and if we were really serious about participation then we should have a seven day run up too polling day were you can cast your vote at a polling booth with a real campaign too encourage everyone too participate.

    • Mosa, so true

      even more worrying is that parties that start off with clear identities and policies slowly seem to merge into the same policies or just seem to agree or accept the mainstream which in NZ is neoliberalism, globalism, low wage economy and trade focus, but with a different face, as the rest of the parties…

  9. Why not think of finding out what has happened in other on-line elections. There have been some notable frauds.

    And why on-line the only idea for increasing voting? What about a big day with fanfares and community singing and dancing and all – along with soapbox orators with a practical idea to make things better, and those who sign up for one of those can get to be involved in a project that is funded by the government. Participation, satisfaction, enjoyment, interest, cups of tea and scones with dates in them and dripping melted butter on them. Health food stands and try kambucha and the new salad dressing that you can make yourself, and little sprouted lettuces in yoghurt pottles to take home and grow for the kids. Buskers, and school kids singing, and kapa haka, and old folks showing folk dancing, the veleta, morris dancing etc.

    If you didn’t manage to get there you would be able to post your vote till an announced say Friday, or drop it in to library or school or Council designated place. Main voting day would be Saturday 7 – 4.30 pm then there would be a week with last day Friday 4.30pm. So voting day would be a Big Thing, but there would be time later if forgot.

    Two weeks voting before closing day is an anticlimax and too easy to put it off and forget it. Let’s have some hoopla about voting. It is bloody important for democracy so emphasise it and not be so passive about it, let’s get some spirit and community oomph into voting as if we care. Don’t we?!

  10. As a person with virtually no computer skills, I probably shouldn’t be in this debate but something always puzzles me. Daily hundreds of thousands of Kiwis put a plastic card into an ATM and, after inserting a pin number and answering a few questions, each user may withdraw a couple of hundreds of dollars, all presumably in total safety or no one would play the game.
    So if the user had an ID card which could withdraw money or vote or do a number of other useful things why should that not also be totally safe? Just asking.

  11. No-one cares about local government
    This from No Right Turn.
    Yesterday was the last day for (reliably) posting your vote away in local body elections. Turnouts are mostly much lower than the equivalent time last year (Palmerston North is down 2.3%), and so naturally people are pushing their online-voting snake oil again. Because the online census worked so well, lets do our local body elections the same way! Except of course online voting is still fundamentally insecure (see also: XKCD), and that hasn’t changed. But companies – like electionz – would get to make money out of it, so they still keep pushing it.

    Meanwhile, local body turnouts have been low for years – around 50% in 1989 – and while it has dropped since then, it was hardly stellar to begin with. Which suggests that while there’s the overall trend of declining participation also seen in national elections, there’s something else going on with local body which is nothing to do with the voting method. And there’s an obvious answer: no-one cares. And its easy to see why: what local government does is mostly invisible. Add to that media coverage focused on Keeping Rates Low which automatically alienates anyone who doesn’t own a house, “conflict of interest” rules which prevent councillors from actually representing their voters, and a parade of cookie-cutter dead white male candidates who alienate anyone who isn’t like them, and it is easy to see why people just decide its not worth bothering with. These people have nothing to do with our lives, so we try and ignore them (until we can’t). And I say all that as someone who does care, who thinks that local government decisions matter. But the institution doesn’t make it easy to believe that.

    (DHBs are even worse: a “local body” whose decisions are in practice entirely dictated by central government, and which seems to exist solely as a blame-sink for the Minister. Why vote for the monkey rather than the organ-grinder?)

    People vote when they care. If we want people to vote, local government needs to be something people can care about. And that’s going to require bigger changes than how we vote (though changing to universal STV, so non-Boomers can actually get represented, would be a start)

  12. “So if the user had an ID card which could withdraw money or vote or do a number of other useful things why should that not also be totally safe? Just asking.”
    It is in the interests of sellers to make sure the systems work safely so they get their money.

    It is mainly in the interests of the citizens to make sure of the safety of the voting system for those who are standing to get the power to do whatever they choose with the country. This makes us all vulnerable, not only those who say they know nuzzing about it. Capice. Answer is as (nearly) always – follow the money and advantage opportunities.

  13. Until recently I thought no 16 year old earned the right to vote Too young no experience ETC ,I now yes give them that as a right, have the voting in boxes in the schools so it can be seen as a part of life all ages above and below the 16 see it as normal ( Explain the danger of electronic third parties the distortions in the USA.
    The history of Rotten boroughs in the UK not as Civics but something close ). I believe it would be engaging and will open the door for greater discussion. My fingers are crossed

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