The Next Step for Online Voting in New Zealand

I see that the government is taking another step down the Online Voting path by enabling a small number of local government authorities to “trial” online voting.

The quotes are mine, because they’re not talking about a trial. It’s not like people will do their postal vote, then also use an online system as a test. The systems rolled out will be production systems with a politically binding outcome. It only makes sense to call this a “trial” if the end goal is much larger. I am afraid the end goal of this project is Online Voting for national elections.

The Online Voting project in New Zealand is being driven by a combination of some policy people, some local government mayors and the government itself. Behind that is some feedback from voters who say they’d like to vote online, but based on the last election they care more about, well, almost anything else. That’s it. The government wouldn’t even engage in an issue with this level of support if it was, say, feeding hungry schoolkids. So why this one?

I don’t have the answer, but I believe the project is doomed already. It is doomed because it is a politically-driven project, and that means it has to succeed.

It is not a science-driven project, with scientists calling for it, and peer-reviewed academic papers supporting it. In fact, the Online Voting Working Group cited no academic research at all in their report, a failing I shall address in the future.

It is not a project demanded by acclaim of the people, with the politicians finally relenting to the massive groundswell of demand.

Politically-driven projects have to succeed because otherwise the politicians get the blame. Despite their need, politicians have failed to see the technical, social, and democratic issues piling up on the horizon. We can only hope they realise before we go any further down this path.

The plan is to have some local authorities roll out Online Voting systems. There will be some support and guidance from central government, but quoting the minister, “it will be the responsibility of local government to address any security risks.”.

I can see the sacrificial lambs being lined up for the slaughter already. If the projects end badly — a very likely outcome — central government will blame local government incompetence, and be spared the backlash that should rightfully be theirs, for putting organisations wholly unsuited for running large, critical IT projects, in charge of development of one to perform one of their most important tasks.

My prediction: hubris, ignorance, and no small dose of incompetence will combine in yet another unsurprising government IT failure.

Bonus: Stephen Judd nicely sums up the case against Online Voting.