10 Sep 2015

Christchurch Council rejects online voting trial

7:00 pm on 10 September 2015

Online voting at next year's local government elections is in jeopardy after the Christchurch City Council today rejected it.

Christchurch City Council

The Christchurch City Council has voted 12 to one against a move to online voting. Photo: RNZ

The company hired to conduct the online trial said without Christchurch it might not be viable - and it was rushing to try to reassure councillors and others that such voting is secure from hackers.

On Monday, Checkpoint reported IT experts held grave fears about online voting, which has already been agreed to by councils in Palmerston North, Porirua, Whanganui, Rotorua and Matamata Piako.

Today at a full meeting of the Christchurch City Council, IT experts pleaded with councillors to reject it based on security fears.

Opponents of online voting, IT experts Dave Lane, Isaac Freeman and Keira Lesley (left to right) outside Christchurch City Council after submitting on proposal for council to take part in online voting trial

IT experts, from left, Dave Lane, Isaac Freeman and Keira Lesley were among those to oppose the proposal. Photo: RNZ/Conan Young

One of them, Jonathan Hunt, reeled off a list of overseas examples where online voting has failed.

"Australia, i-vote, a significant security issue, France, fake votes demonstrated, Netherlands, they've banned internet voting outright, Spain discontinued, UK discontinued, Washington DC, that was a genuine trial without a politically binding outcome, it was hacked within 48 hours."

The experts questioned the lack of public consultation and noted they had only been made aware of today's vote after being asked to comment on it by Radio New Zealand on Monday.

Today, councillor Tim Scandrett said while moving voting online next year was being described as a trial, all votes cast as part of it would count towards who was elected.

"I do not want the residents of this city...to have to be the guinea pigs.

"I know these things have been all over the world but I would prefer to watch someone else do it and then come out and do it when we have some stable ground to move forward on."

Councillor Glenn Livingstone questioned why, when the Auckland Council had been told it would not be able to take part because there would be too many votes at stake, it was felt it would be okay for other councils.

"I'm not prepared to put our reputation as a city at stake. I believe we can't guarantee mitigation of risk and the potential risks here are far-reaching. The worse case scenario means the invasion of our electors' private lives."

The only councillor in favour of online voting, Jamie Gough, said councillors were being overly cautious.

"I am absolutely staggered there's no support for this. It is a disgrace for us not to embrace this and I think this is step backwards.

"You're confirming everything about conservative boring Christchurch and everything about how dark ages local government is, because it's just not where the world's at. So wake up and get with the times."

Councillors voted against online voting by 12 votes to one.

Outside the meeting, Steve Kilpatrick, managing director of Electionz dot com, which has been hired to do the trial, said without Christchurch the trial would not have a representative sample of councils to work with.

"Christchurch brought to the trial a large metropolitan First Past the Post council which was a good thing to have in the trial to compare against smaller rural FPP councils. This could be the end of it."

A spokesperson for the associate Local Government Minister, Louise Upston, said a final decision on whether the trial goes ahead rested with Cabinet, not Electionz dot com.

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