Connected: voting off the nasties


A nasty fine for texting is better than being left with a nasty government for not.

3002926411 b4f2543dc6 oBy Matthew O'Driscoll

What should Libya have done with Gadaffi’s body? Perhaps they could have followed the example of the Philippines where vice president Jejomar Binay launched a survey by text and email to find out what the citizens wanted to do with the body of deposed dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Yes, that really happened.

A bit of a morbid opener but I only mention it because of the figures that keep popping up about the number of people enrolled and expected to vote in our election. It turns out that people are more likely to stay at home and vote for the latest TV talent show than have any say in the formation of our next government.

Worrying? Well…yes, but it just shows that our voting system needs to catch up with our habits and use of technology.

In the past, attending your local school or community centre and completing your civic duty was all part of being active in the community. Even posting your vote was something you’d do while popping off a letter to your Auntie. Unfortunately those days are long gone for most. Communities and communications have gone electronic with the rise of websites, emailing, texting and tweeting.

So why hasn’t voting gone that way too? Good question. The Electoral Commission has a very informative website and you can even get your enrolment started by texting your name and address to 3676, but that’s about it.

Overseas, there have been some interesting experiments but it doesn’t look as though anyone’s cracked the perfect model yet.

As far back as 2002, the UK was trialling text and web-based voting in Liverpool and Sheffield. Liverpool City Council reported that 40 per cent of voters in two wards had placed an electronic X. Trials across the rest of the country didn’t fare as well and the general election in the UK still only uses polling booths and postal voting.

In 2003, the Swiss town of Bülach had an 11 per cent turnout from text voters and another 25.7 per cent over the internet.

Closer to home there are calls for the Australian Electoral Commission to extend the electronic voting trial from 2007 to the 2011 elections. In 2007,hearing-impaired citizens and overseas soldiers were able to use electronic voting. Advocates there insist that not only will it increase voter turnout but it will also save $110 million and thousands of hours wasted queuing up at polling booths.

Back here in New Zealand, all social media is going to be used for is pushing party messages and even that is having a close eye kept on it. Radio New Zealand reports that the Electoral Commission will be monitoring sites like Twitter and Facebook to ensure that electoral rules are not breached.

It’s illegal in New Zealand to campaign on election day which means that media shouldn’t publish or air anything that could influence voters. A rule easy to uphold in the traditional sense of the media but how they are going to stop people from sharing, tweeting or rebroadcasting their favourite party’s messages is anyone’s guess. Another one for New Zealand to put on the ‘to do’ list as far as social media and voting goes.

Just remember when New Zealand does catch up try not to vote and drive at the same time or you could end up with a nasty fine. That said, a nasty fine for texting is better than being left with a nasty government for not.