Move to online voting won't 'really address the problems of our non-voters', expert says

A move to online voting will not solve the problem of low voter turnout for local government elections, according to an expert.

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AUT Policy Observatory’s Julienne Molineaux joined Breakfast to discuss low voter turnout in local body elections. Source: Breakfast

Local body elections around New Zealand are in their final stages and low voter turnout has been predicted. 

AUT Policy Observatory director Julienne Molineaux says the reasons people are not voting are numerous, including finding local government "quite boring", "high levels of apathy" and "cynicism".

"That's not particularly new. Some people are quite cynical about politics. They say, 'It doesn't matter who gets in, it's all the same anyway.' Some people have very low levels of information about the local election, so not really aware the election's on or what it’s about," Ms Molineaux told TVNZ1's Breakfast this morning.

"There's also people who say, 'I'd like to vote, but I don't really know enough about the candidates, the policies and the issues.'

Ms Molineaux also says voting in local body elections is more complex than voting in a general election with more candidates to chose from, who are less well known.

"So we've got this really hard task, and a lot of people do find that off-putting."

Despite historic low turnout in local government elections Ms Molineaux says people should get out and vote because decisions made by local councils affect New Zealanders day-to-day lives.

"You step outside, you walk on the footpath, you drive down the road – those are local government services, but we're not really swimming in local government politics the way we are in central government politics," she says.

However, Ms Molineaux said online voting will not help address our ignorance of local body politics, noting, "When you look at online voting or any voting, you've got to look at the whole design of the entire system".

"Just putting something on a screen doesn't necessarily mean people will flock to it," she said, adding that while the online Census was popular and many people did their Census online, participation rates had fallen.

"You have to look at the design of the whole system," she said. "It's not just about technology, it's about everything. I think if we really wanted to address turnout, we've got to look at the problems of non-voters, which is not caring, not knowing much about local government, and really struggling to fill out their ballot."

She said people must look at "a range of different things" to address low voter turnout, including learning civics in schools.

"As turnout levels fall, there's a lot of young people growing up in households where their parents aren't voting, so how are they introduced to voting? Where do they get their information from?

"I think we need to look at maybe having the Electoral Commission run local elections so there's a nationwide 'get out and vote' campaign, there's nationwide messaging about local government and its importance.

"Online voting is about the convenience of existing voters – it's about making it easier for people who are really motivated to vote and have good levels of digital literacy, but it doesn't really address the problems of our non-voters."