Online voting report released

David Farrar

Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga said:

A report looking at the feasibility of online voting for local body elections has been welcomed by Associate Local Government Minister Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga.

In September 2013, Cabinet agreed to establish a working party to consider the feasibility of online voting in New Zealand’s local elections. The working party met from December 2013 to May 2014 and has now reported back with its recommendations.

Mr Lotu-Iiga says the working party found online voting for local elections is feasible. The report said that online voting has the potential to enhance the operation of local democracy and offer New Zealanders a more accessible and convenient option to cast their vote.

“One of the major benefits of online voting is as a tool of convenience. It would enable voters to act on their intention to vote quicker, easier and in a forum more in line with the modern digital age,” he says.

“We have seen good examples of that recently with the census, where 35 per cent of forms were completed online in 2013, which is up from 7 per cent in 2006.”

I was on the working group that write the report. It was a lot of work, but I’m really pleased with the report.  Very impressed with the DIA staff who supported the working group.

The report makes seven findings. They are:

  1. online voting is feasible
  2. broad implementation is not feasible in 2016
  3. online voting should be trialled in 2016 as part of local elections
  4. online voting can improve and enhance the voting experience
  5. public trust and confidence must be maintained
  6. implementing online voting will require a partnership approach
  7. securing online voting is critical, but not easy

Some of the specific recommendations include:

  • online voting should be considered complementary to postal or booth voting and not as a replacement to existing voting methods
  • Councils and their communities should choose whether online voting is available as a voting method
  • In order to ensure that online voting systems are secure enough, the Department should harness the expertise of the wider security community through a ‘bug bounty’ or similar process to attract constructive analysis of proposed systems for vulnerabilities.
  • The Department should ensure that any online voting solutions are highly auditable.
  • For the 2016 trials, online voting should use the existing postal ballot issue to communicate login details to users, only allow one-time access to the online voting system and use two factor authentication if possible – our preferred option is for the voter to use their date of birth (acquired from the electoral roll) as a ‘shared secret’

The Institute of IT Professionals has welcomed the report:

IITP CEO Paul Matthews, who sat on the working group, welcomed the release of the report today. “This report plots the path forward for online voting in New Zealand, and carefully weighs up the issues around security and other factors”, Matthews said.

During the development of the report, the Institute was heavily engaged and very pleased with the focus of the Working Group and Government on protecting the integrity of voter’s private information amidst the security implications of online voting.

“We especially support the recommendation of a ‘bug bounty’ approach to the online voting system. While bug bounties are used extensively in our sector by most prominent technology companies, this would be a step forward for a Government and is one of the key recommendations from the IT profession to Government last year, following various public sector security breaches.”

“We thank the Minister for looking to IITP and other organisations such as Internet New Zealand to provide independent expertise for this Working Group. As the representative body for the IT Profession, this enabled IITP to work with others to ensure tech-related factors were well considered, independently and without technology bias,” Matthews concluded.

Basically what is needed now is for central and local government to work together to determine how to find the initial costs of developing a robust online voting system. This will have potential for not just local government elections, but also referenda. Note I don’t advocate using online voting for parliamentary elections – just as a complementary option to those systems that rely on postal ballots – as the postal system is basically dying.

Political commentator David Farrar posts at Kiwiblog.

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