Justice Minister Simon Power is to introduce legislation enabling voters to re-enrol and update their details online in time for next year’s general election.
Cabinet has decided that legislation to be introduced to Parliament in November, is the first step in a process that will also eventually allow voters to use the Internet to enrol for the first time.
Currently, voters have to complete and sign a written form when enrolling and making changes to their details.
The Electoral (Administration) Amendment Bill No.2 allows voters to re-enrol and make changes to their details online using the ‘igovt’ government logon service, which is run by the Department of Internal Affairs. This will take effect from the middle of next year when the legislation is expected to be passed.
The changes will also ensure that all electoral enrolment offences include Internet-based acts.
The Government will also give voters the option of enrolling online, subject to a satisfactory trial of the online re-enrolment service. A programme for full online enrolment will be developed after next year’s election and introduced in separate legislation.
“Taking advantage of the Internet will make it as simple as possible for people to participate in elections,” Mr Power said.
“In particular, it will make enrolling more accessible to people aged between 18 and 24 who make up approximately 40 per cent of un-enrolled eligible voters.”
It is sensible to make use of technology providing there are safeguards which enable verification of identity.
Young people are more likely to use online enrolment. They’re also more likely to shift addresses between elections and enrolment packs may not catch up with even if they’ve left a forwarding address.
Full online enrolment will use a robust identify verification service (IVS) which is under development by the Department of Internal Affairs.
“The identify verification service will require voters to provide proof of identity before completing sensitive online transactions with government agencies.
“The staged roll-out will allow the IVS to be developed in order to make sure the integrity of the electoral system is maintained.”
It’s not a big step from online re-enrolment to online enrolment but it is quite a way from there to online voting.
There’s something about the experience of voting by going to a polling booth with others who are exercising their democratic freedom.
It may also encourage better participation – postal voting for local body elections is cited as one reason participation is much lower than for general elections.
I don’t favour compulsory voting – if we’re free to vote we should also be free to not vote. But robust democracy requires wide participation and online voting could make that easier.