What Auckland Council needs to do about climate change

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Australia is currently burning. In the state of Victoria it is estimated that 200,000 hectares of forest has burned. Nationally the figure is 5 million hectares. Sydney has had dense smoke clogging the city for weeks. The Blue mountains have been severely affected. The State of New South Wales has already lost an estimated 30% of its koala population.

It is not even peak bushfire time which normally starts in April.

And it is getting worse.

NSW Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons has said that it is “absolutely” the state’s worst bushfire season on record. He also said this:

We’ve seen extraordinary fire behaviour. What we really need is meaningful rain, and we haven’t got anything in the forecast at the moment that says we’re going to get drought-breaking or fire-quenching rainfall.”

Australia is not the only country to experience unusual weather patterns and severe adverse consequences. In the United States fires in California are becoming a regular event. It is comical that Donald Trump and Barnaby Joyce are both trying to blame green policies relating to undergrowth for the fires. The cause is clear, increased temperatures and changing rain patterns caused by climate change, just as predicted by numerous scientific studies over the past few decades.

We have got to the stage where kids still at school are lecturing grown up politicians on the subject, and demanding action.

We are facing a crisis. Even the United Kingdom Conservative Government realise this. Their goal, to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, matches this country’s proposal. Jacinda Ardern has rightfully called the issue her generation’s nuclear-free moment.

Phil Goff campaigned on the issue at the last local government election. He has recently released the Mayoral Budget Proposal and the accompanying press release said this:

In last year’s 10-year Budget, $130 million was invested in a climate response fund and coastal asset management.

“However, we can’t afford to wait to take action. For that reason, in this annual budget, I am proposing urgent initiatives to demonstrate the council’s leadership in taking measures to cut its own emissions,” Phil Goff says.

“Under my proposal, we will cut our emissions by nearly 20 per cent by moving swiftly to decarbonize our vehicle fleet and shifting to sustainable energy across our community facilities.”

Other measures in the mayoral proposal include:

• $2.7 million to expand tree planting activities across the region by 50 per cent, with at least 1.5 million mainly native trees set to be planted over the next three years to absorb carbon emissions
• Investment in research to understand how the council can effectively achieve its climate goals
• Appointing an independent expert to review the provisions in the Unitary Plan and determine how it can better support climate change adaption and mitigation
• Continuing to fund climate education in our schools and communities, to empower people play a role in reducing emissions and caring for the environment

Phil Goff says, “Transport is a major contributor to carbon emissions, and my proposals to make public transport cheaper for kids, alongside continued investment in the public transport network, will increase patronage as well as reducing traffic congestion and emissions.

“Our work on climate change will complement the more than $700 million we are investing in water and environmental projects, as well as the $57 million we will spend on land for parks and open spaces over the 2020/2021 year.

Former Mayoral candidate Mark Thomas, who has strong associations with the National Party, thinks the measures are not enough. And I agree with him.

In a guest post in Newsroom he said this:

Auckland Mayor, and former Environment Minister, Phil Goff, had a chance to start a new city direction on climate change, one of his big re-election campaign priorities, when he outlined his budget plans for next year.

In doing so he repeated what he often said during the mayoral campaign: the council needs to act urgently to address climate change.

Yet the four modest climate change announcements he made won’t be fully underway until July next year and the bigger ones will take five years to implement. At a cost of $18.9m over the next five years, they represent a rounding error against total Auckland expenditure of $24 billion over the same period. The 6,000 tonnes of carbon that will be reduced by his key initiatives will cut the regions’ annual CO2 production by less than 0.2 percent.

And I also find myself agreeing with Thomas about what can and should be done. He said this:

Although Auckland’s new climate action plan may be adopted by the council in the early months of 2020, Goff said any substantive decisions and significant budget changes would have to wait for the next 10 year budget – which won’t start until July 1, 2021.

This is a strange emergency.

A more ‘urgent’ response would be to introduce an extraordinary amendment to the 10 year budget. Christchurch council did this in the years following its earthquakes. Other councils do this when either unexpected or unplanned-for events arise.

In the long-prepared draft Auckland climate action plan there are 70 actions, a number of which could be pulled into an “extraordinary” budget change.

Potential quick climate wins for Auckland, include:

– encourage large scale uptake of zero and low emission vehicles.

– make freight systems more efficient.

– rapidly increase safe, high-quality cycling and walking infrastructure

– implement the proposed climate innovation system.

– develop and deliver local and regional decentralised energy solutions

– use council property to drive innovation in renewable energy development

The last Council introduced special rates to deal with water quality issues and environmental issues, particularly Kauri dieback. These rates are calculated to raise $452 million and $311 million respectively over ten years. Most people were very supportive of these rates. Regionally 60% supported a targeted water quality rate. In the Waitakere Ranges the figure was 62%. And 70% of locals supported a Natural Environment Targeted Rate compared to the regional total of 65%.

Maybe it is time for Auckland Council to think about a Climate Change special rate, or more specifically a Greenways special rate. And rather than wait for a couple of years get it underway now using the emergency procedure.

In the Waitakere Ranges area the local board has completed our Greenways Plan. This is something that I am very proud of. It sets out a blueprint of how our walkways and cycleways could look.

But we don’t have the funding to do any more than a small proportion of the plan. The most expensive and most strategically important is the cycleway between Sunnyvale and Glen Eden running adjacent to the railway line. But this had a construction cost in the vicinity of $8 million back in 2008. You could double or triple the cost now. And our dedicated transport capital fund, which is cherished, is not nearly enough for this size project. It is currently $670,000 per year. It would take approximately 30 years to accumulate enough capital to complete it. And this is just one project of many in our Greenways list.

Other local boards have also developed Greenways Plans. The ones that I am aware of include Puketapapa, Whau and Waitemata.

If we are going to be carbon neutral by 2050 this means that by about 2030 the introduction of petrol powered cars into New Zealand’s fleet will have to be rarity. But we will not be able to afford to replace 2.4 million vehicles overnight. Which is why alternatives to driving, whether it be public transport, or walking or cycling or scootering will need to be nurtured and supported as much as possible.

So what I would like the Council is to create a dedicated Greenways rate so that our walkways and our cycleways can be built.

AT’s current plans are to spend $635 million on creating 150 km of cycleways in the city in the next ten years. No new cycleways are planned for the Waitakere Ranges area.

It is predicted that there will be a 4% modal shift because of the new cycleways. The figures are however business as usual and will not create the significant change that is needed.

When you extrapolate it the figure suggests AT will build 15 kilometers of cyclelanes a year. This year the goal was 10 kilometers and AT was not able to even do that.

There will be a multiplier effect. A contribution by NZTA should be available. And I believe it important that local boards are fully involved in decisions of which cycleways to construct.

The Mayor’s brave proposal to increase rates so that the city can improve water quality and protect Kauri was the correct one. But the argument to get a dedicated fund so that we can get our city ready for a post petroleum future is I believe especially strong and especially urgent.

In the immortal words of our Prime Minister, let’s do this.

Then they came for public art

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Two recent stories caught my attention.  Apparently the barbarians in power in the United States and in Australia want to undermine and destroy public art.

First in the USA the Trump Administration wishes to destroy the ability of the Federal Government to provide any public art.  From Eve L Ewing at the New York Times:

Last month, the Trump administration proposed a national budget that includes the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts. The NEA operates with a budget of about $150 million a year. As critics have observed, this amount is about 0.004 percent of the federal budget, making the move a fairly inefficient approach to trimming government spending. Many Americans have been protesting the cuts by pointing out the many ways that art enriches our lives — as they should. The arts bring us joy and entertainment; they can offer a reprieve from the trials of life or a way to understand them.

But as Hitler understood, artists play a distinctive role in challenging authoritarianism. Art creates pathways for subversion, for political understanding and solidarity among coalition builders. Art teaches us that lives other than our own have value. Like the proverbial court jester who can openly mock the king in his own court, artists who occupy marginalized social positions can use their art to challenge structures of power in ways that would otherwise be dangerous or impossible.

And in Australia the same sort of stuff is happening.  From SBS News:

Australia will no longer have a federal department with a major focus on the arts.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a public service overhaul, cutting the number of departments from 18 to 14 from next February.

Under the changes, the current Department of Communications and the Arts will be rolled into a new entity that will be called the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications.

It remains to be seen how the arts will fit into this new department and how arts funding and resources will be affected.

I wonder how a public art project will fare against a roading project under Scomo’s Government? Or for that And how about this as a passage on why art is important and why these proposals are appalling?

We need the arts because they make us full human beings. But we also need the arts as a protective factor against authoritarianism. In saving the arts, we save ourselves from a society where creative production is permissible only insofar as it serves the instruments of power. When the canary in the coal mine goes silent, we should be very afraid — not only because its song was so beautiful, but also because it was the only sign that we still had a chance to see daylight again.

And there is this other contribution to the debate:

I want to see a country where the creativity and joy that comes from the arts is available to the many, not reserved for a privileged few. I want to see a country where the arts flourish and breathe life into, well, everyday life.  I want to see a country where the arts are available to us all and help us express ourselves as unique individuals, brought together in diverse communities.

I believe the arts and creativity are integral and inseparable parts of what it is to be human.

It concerns me that a mind-set still persists in which only those things that can be counted matter, and things not easily quantified are too quickly discarded. Using that mind-set, some argue the arts are simply a nice to have. I whole-heartedly disagree.

And who said that? Well our PM.  

Public art is a reflection of the quality of a civilisation. It is an outlet for dissent and new thinking and change. No wonder the far right attack it.

December Chair’s report – what the Board wants to achieve this term.

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At the inaugural meeting I set out eleven matters that I wanted the board to focus on this term. I thought I should repeat the list and then report on what is happening.

These included:

  • Climate change.  Every decision we make should have a climate change filter applied to it.
  • The marine environment.  Our streams and lagoons should be clean and our beaches should always be swimmable.
  • The housing crisis.  We should not have working people and their kids living in cars.  And our young teachers and police officers and nurses should be able to afford to buy their own homes in Auckland.
  • Glen Eden renewal.  We need to kick on with the Civic square project and get Glen Eden ready for instensification and for the City Rail Link.
  • Kauri dieback.  Work needs to continue on this scourge of the Waitakere Ranges.  Research of the issue and education of local communities on detection and prevention as well as the upgrading of our tracks so we can walk without fear must continue.
  • Tree protection.  Our advocacy and activism in this area must continue.
  • Weeds and pests. Titirangi is unfortunately known as the weed capital of the country.  And the rest of the Ranges is also struggling to deal with this problem.
  • Arts and Culture.  Our local board area is blessed with as divine art as can be imagined.  This term we wish to secure Shadbolt House as a writer’s residence.
  • Public Transport.  If we are going to become truly sustainable then our PT needs to be outstanding.  And the claw back of public transport from the rural area needs to stop and be reversed.
  • Development of the the Te Henga Marae.  This term I want to make sure there are no roadblocks to completion of this very important project for Te Kawerau a Maki.
  • Oversight role of the Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area.  This is one of our most important jobs.

As I look through this report I see that there have been significant events that relate to water quality, community, homelessness, the environment, and arts and culture.

Water quality and Laingholm Beach

I was really pleased when Auckland Council announced that Laingholm Beach was to be taken off the list of closed beaches.

Clearly the targeted water quality rate is having an effect and this is welcome.

But there has been a very strong local community effort and a citizen science programme run by locals and the Laingholm Wai Ora group. They have been collecting water samples for some time and the data as well as the moral imperative created by the locals work meant that it was important that the problems be identified and rectified.

Congratulations to all concerned. And we need to get to the situation where all of our west coast beaches remain open, even when there is heavy rainfall.

The Glen Eden Christmas Festival

This was held on the weekend. It was a slightly different design to previous years. This year there was no parade. Instead there was a stage set up with various performances, everything from Prospect School’s Kapa Haka to Yosakoi Sadan, a Japanese Cultural Group to Peter Pan, various fairies and elves and a number of others. Even Superman appeared.

The stage MS was Johnny Angel, also known as the Pacific Elvis. He was hilarious. I hope he gets invited back.

Elsewhere there were stalls with things for kids to do, bouncy castles, a woman on stilts and various cartoon characters who had come to life.
And a whole lot of kids who clearly had a great time.

Not having a parade meant that costs were reduced. The safety costs associated with closing the main road are rather large.

I think the more concentrated festival also worked better.

Can I thank Gayle Marshall and the Glen Eden Protection Society and Leanne Appleby and Kyle Turner and the Glen Eden Community House, Family Action, and everyone else who helped organise and run this event.

I appreciate that the festival takes a huge amount of time and work but I hope that they are able to repeat the festival next year.


Local security has been in the news lately. Action by the authorities taken in Henderson has dispersed homeless people from there and we have seen a few more in Glen Eden.

And one of our local businesses, the Kebab Shop owned by Zuhaib Abbas Bangash has received national media attention for his outstanding display of generosity in offering free food to the local homeless.

There has been some controversy about the role of the local Business Improvement District and I appreciate that there are differing views about what has happened. Can I say that there has been no pressure from the local board on anyone to try and stop Mr Bangash from his charity. We have not formulated a formal position. And my personal view is that he should be congratulated for his generosity.

The Business Improvement District, the Police and local board members have met to discuss matters and there are a number of actions that are being taken.

One quick action that has been implemented is extended opening hours for the public toilet. There were complaints of pretty appalling behaviour and I hope the extended hours will mean this ceases. The plan includes installation of a further security camera and it is hoped this will improve night time safety in this area.

Another action is to install gates at the Glen Eden railway station. Currently the promise of a free ride is too attractive for some. The installation of gates in Henderson saw a significant reduction of anti social activity and the same benefit should come to Glen Eden. AT has advised me that this is not in the current work plan but I will be advocating for them to accelerate this particular project.

There will be greater police presence. Titirangi Community Constable Will Flapper will spend more time here and I hope the new Glen Eden Community Constable will be appointed soon. Locals will also have seen the mobile Police station parked in the area recently. We hope to see it here regularly.

There is an inter agency group based in the Whau area which includes representatives from different agencies that meets regularly. The idea is to deal with issues in a timely manner with adequate resources.

The idea is a good one but the organisation needs to cover the entire West area. The trouble with “solving” the issue on a board by board area is that often the problem is dispersed, not resolved.

There are no quick fixes. The background problems for homeless people are often longstanding and complex. And sometimes they are caused by disastrous events which there but for the grace of god the rest of us will never experience.


The Titirangi Chicken project is pretty well complete and I am pleased to note that I have not seen a chicken in the area for at least a week although I have received a report about a couple of stragglers who have not yet been caught.

Nearly 220 chickens have been captured. 
They were checked by vet staff.  They are remarkably healthy and have been rehomed, most of them to a farm in Ardmore.  The capture techniques used were humane and no birds so far have been injured by the capture process nor has there been a need to euthanise any of them.
The initial capture technique involved getting the chickens into a regular feeding pattern and then dropping a net on them when they gathered to feed.
New techniques, including capturing at night to capture the harder to trap ones.
I appreciate that some people thought the chickens were quaint and added to the character of the village.  But the basic problem was there were too many of them.
And they were causing significant damage to the bush, were implicated in the spread of Kauri dieback and the presence of large numbers of rats, were messing up the area and were posing a traffic hazard.  And I have had many distressing complaints from people suffering from sleep deprivation caused by incessant rooster crowing.
Time will tell if we actually have been successful but I have my fingers crossed!

The contractors who performed the work, Treescape, should be thanked for their work and the officers involved should also be commended, particularly Jon Cranfield who oversaw the project and senior manager Barry Potter who stepped up and kicked matters off when I suggested to him that the situation was now an emergency.

It would be good to think about the future.  My impression is that native bird numbers have declined lately and it would be good for their numbers to be strengthened.  Locals can help by having feeding stations with sugar water on their properties.  We could work on making Titirangi a renowned native bird haven rather than the renowned chicken haven that it was in the past.

Open Studios festival

This is a regular event sponsored by the local board where local artists’ work is showcased and members of the public are invited into artists studios to inspect and hopefully purchase their work. Visitor maps are prepared and tours are organised.

This year the festival was launched at Arataki Visitor’s Centre with the centre having some of the art on display. I thought this was a really good idea. The Waitakere Ranges are clearly an inspiration for local artists and to host their art nestled in the great forest of Tiriwa was a nice touch.

The event has grown from strength to strength with this year over 80 artists and 40 studios taking part. This included 12 new artists that are opening up their studios for the first time.

The feedback that I have had from this event has been overwhelmingly positive. Hopefully everyone involved will make sure that the event continues on for the foreseeable future.

The new term

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The text of my speech for the inaugural meeting of the Waitakere Ranges Local Board.

Can I first thank Mana Whenua for starting our meeting and our term in a most appropriate way.

Can I thank everyone for attending this the inaugural meeting of the fourth Waitakere Ranges Local Board.

I have had the privilege of being a member of each board.

The first was chaotic as we were thrown the keys to the brand new super city vehicle and told to drive her.

We did it without driving lessons, or even from the most cursory investigation by the powers that be to see if we even had a drivers licence.

But we had the wise and dedicated leadership of my comrade Denise Yates to guide us through.

The second under the leadership of Sandra Coney saw us advance in the way that we handled the job.

To continue with the car metaphor we worked out how to control it better.

To the terror of Queen Street we even pulled off the odd burnout and hand break job but we did manage to keep it on the road.

Then it was my privilege to be chair for the past term.  It was a wonderful experience for me.  Each morning I would wake up and think what part of our piece of paradise needed a bit of TLC and which part we could improve.

And onto this term which I hope is the term that we really learn to make super city or at least our part of it hum.

Can I acknowledge Saffron Toms who has been re-elected to her third term.

This term we are going to try something different, perhaps even slightly radical.

We decided to buck the region’s way of doing things not to mention the legislation and to act as co chairs.

This will mean a split term for each of us and a swap half way through.  It will also mean that the board will get two for the price of one.

We will work out specific areas of responsibility in the next few weeks and our intent is to involve every local board member in everything the board does and if they have a special interest in a particular area to involve them as much as possible in that area.

Can I acknowledge former chair Sandra Coney.  She will be serving her 7th term in public office this term.  The good people of West Auckland obviously recognise ability and dedication.  Sandra is the person on the board most determined that we make the right decision each time.

Can I acknowledge Ken Turner.

I am not breaking any confidences by disclosing that Ken and I have different political views.  Our respective campaign material shows this.  But I am impressed by the dedication that Ken brings to the job and the determination he has to improve things.

I am sure that he will bring his A game to board meetings.  To criticise and question when he thinks something is wrong.  We will not always agree but debates are better when all views are considered.

Can I acknowledge new board member Michelle Clayton.

I have worked with Michelle on issues including housing and Glen Eden where her work is discerning and productive.  She will bring a compassionate and capable approach to the board.

Can I also acknowledge new board member Mark Allen.  He is the current head of Community Waitakere and a former senior Council Officer. 

His experience and insight into how super city works will be invaluable to us, if not somewhat terrifying to the staff!

Can I acknowledge our ward Councillors Linda Cooper and especially Shane Henderson who is our new Councillor.  I should warn you both that we have a reputation of being an environmentally focussed and sometimes stroppy board and I am afraid that things are not going to change this term.  

We look forward to working productively with you on issues of common interest. 

A very special thanks to our family and friends who put a huge effort into getting us elected and had to put up with the stress and tension and drama of an election campaign.  On behalf of each of us from both Future West and from Westwards can I acknowledge you and thank you for everything that you did for us.

And can I state on behalf of all politicians here that we all, and I repeat all, go a bit crazy during election campaigns.  May we all return to sanity quickly so that we can all work for the benefit of our community.  

This is the fifth time that I have been elected to public office and each time has made me realise the importance of the democratic process.  Our mandate is to listen and reflect the views of our communities while at the same time provide leadership and make our own minds up about issues and keep everyone happy.  Occasionally these may contradict, especially the last which is almost never possible.  Good luck to whoever can achieve this balance …

This area has been my home for over 30 years. Among all of us locals there is a deep fondness for the area and a deep desire to protect the ranges, the foothills, our west coast beaches and the abundant forest that is around us.  I believe that this board’s environmentally protective beliefs accord with the dominant social values of the West.

This term in making our part of paradise better one decision at a time there are eleven areas I want the board to pay particular attention to.

The first is climate change.  That most intractable of problems urgently needs not only international and national action but also local action.  Every decision we make should have a climate change filter applied to it.

The second is the marine environment and in particular protection of Maui’s dolphin’s habitat.  Our streams and lagoons should be clean and our beaches should always be swimmable.

The third is the housing crisis.  I cannot understand how in a nation as wealthy as New Zealand we have working people and their kids living in cars.  And that our young teachers and police officers and nurses cannot afford to buy their own home in Auckland.  The causes are complex and varied but each branch of Auckland Council needs to stand up and do its part.

The fourth is Glen Eden renewal.  Glen Eden is a wonderful village full of great people.  And it is resilient.  It just keeps on keeping on.  It is also the centre of an area that will experience considerable growth and the railway station will be utilised more and more as the current growth in PT continues.  We made a start last term on renewal with the securing of land for a town square but we need to kick on and affect change.  One hopefully which will result in it being less dependant on cars and where people are happy to walk and cycle and gather.

The fifth is Kauri dieback.  The spread of Kauri dieback is occurring at a terrifying rate and this most magnificent of species is facing increasing threat.  Research of the issue and education of local communities on detection and prevention as well as the upgrading of our tracks so we can walk without fear must continue.

The sixth is tree protection.  It is absurd that we can have rules about what colour a house can be painted but not have general rules protecting trees.  Our advocacy and activism in this area must continue.

The seventh is weeds and pests. Titirangi is unfortunately known as the weed capital of the country.  And we are only just holding on.  We need to do better.

The eighth is Arts and Culture.  Our local board area is blessed with as divine art as can be imagined.  And institutions such as Te Uru provide a focus for its nurturing and development.  Last term the board worked hard to secure Shadbolt House as a writer’s residence.  This term we hope to complete this.

The ninth is Public Transport.  If we are going to become truly sustainable then our PT needs to be outstanding.  And the claw back of public transport from the rural area needs to stop and be reversed.

The tenth is development of the the Te Henga Marae.  This term I want to make sure there are no roadblocks to completion of this very important project for Te Kawerau a Maki.

And finally the local board will continue with our oversight role of the Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area.  The Act creates an obligation for Auckland Council to preserve and enhance the local area and many problems can be addressed by reference to the principles and objectives of the Act.

To conclude and to complete the car metaphor this term the local board intends driving a fully electric vehicle fueled by sustainably generated electricity.

But I can’t promise that we won’t be doing any burnouts or hand brake jobs.

Will online voting solve the turnout problem

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As at yesterday Auckland Council was reporting that 17% of electors had voted.

This is not an Auckland only problem, throughout the country return rates are reported to be low.

And questions are being asked about the cause, and what the solution may be.

My personal belief is that our severely compromised postal system is a large part of the problem.

And it was predictable. The school trustee election experience earlier this year provided a jarring run up to what is an important exercise of our democratic rights.

From Simon Collins in the Herald from June of this year:

School principals are livid over delays in delivering Board of Trustees ballot papers with one saying she was prepared to the break the law to give parents time to vote.

Voting in the triennial elections for most school boards closed at noon on Friday, June 7.

But Ponsonby Primary School principal Dr Anne Malcolm said most of her parents did not receive their voting papers until about 2pm on Thursday, giving them less than 24 hours to read the candidates’ statements and get their votes in.

She put the blame squarely on “NZ Post inefficiency”.

“They sent the voting papers out on Monday May 27,” she said.

“It took 11 days for NZ Post to get mail into our letterboxes in the centre of Auckland, from Wellington, which is absolutely abhorrent.”

She “panicked” when most of her parents had not received voting papers by last Tuesday, June 4.

“I really panicked. I thought, we are going to end up with a situation where people will go to court over this, that it will be unjust, people will not have enough time to read the papers,” she said.

“NZ Post says, and I know because I live in Ponsonby, that they only deliver in Ponsonby on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, so the next hit will be Thursday.”

My impression is that the votes were delivered more slowly this year. I was delivering pamphlets a week after the date deliveries started to be made and saw a number of election packs in letterboxes.

So is digital voting the solution? At this stage I am afraid not. This is something that I wrote earlier this year:

“Auckland Council wishes to conduct a trial of online voting at next year’s local government elections and the local boards are being asked to comment.

People that know me will be aware that I am a somewhat self confessed technophile. I have owned a computer for 30 years now and my MacBook Pro is rarely not by my side.

But I must admit having misgivings about the proposal to test run electronic voting and wonder if this will be too soon.

The report that the Waitakere Ranges Local Board is to consider this week says this:

The internet has become an integral part of everyday life. Many of the transactions that used to be carried out by post have long been replaced by online options, to the extent that people expect online facilities for their day-to-day activities. Online voting is therefore a natural progression and constitutes an opportunity to modernise the operation of local democracy in New Zealand.

The current postal voting method relies entirely on New Zealand Post providing an effective and reliable service. It is a reality that the postal service is declining. Fewer New Zealanders choose to communicate via post, particularly first time and younger voters, many of whom have never posted a letter. The frequency of delivery is decreasing and the cost of sending mail is surging. The postal cost for the 2019 Auckland local elections will increase by an estimated 77 per cent compared with 2016, because of a postage price increase of almost 60 per cent and an increase in the number of electors of approximately 70,000.

It will become increasingly difficult to deliver postal voting effectively and affordably. Therefore, it is crucial to have a viable alternative to postal voting in place, and online voting is the obvious choice.

While complaints about the mail system are appropriate this should not of itself be a reason to change systems.  And there is a cost in making democracy function properly.  If you want an example of a local election with problems the recent election for the Auckland Consumer Energy Trust is a prime example with turnout less than 13%.  It did not help that the independent electoral officer was banned from promoting the election.

After the recent US elections and the multitude of complaints arising from the conduct of different elections particularly in Texas, Georgia and Florida I believe that some caution is warranted.

The complaints from those elections are numerous, voting machines that preferred Cruz to Beto even though voters had selected the all Democrat option, voting machines locked away, voters purged from voting lists because of slightly mismatched signatures, one candidate for Governor also being the chief electoral officer, and voting resources favouring wealthy over poor areas.

And the Internet does not have a good reputation when it comes to the enforcement of democratic norms, as shown by the various complaints over Facebook, the spread of fake news and possible Russian interference in the US election show. It has even been shown that there is a sustainable business model involving the spread of fake news, and it seems the faker the news the more profitable the spread.

I appreciate that many of these examples are not relevant for the proposed electronic voting model but they can show what happens when things get skewered.

Stanford Computer Professor David Dill has provided these reasons for not trusting computers with online voting:

  • There’s no way with any reasonable amount of resources that you can guarantee that the software and hardware are bug-free and that they haven’t been maliciously attacked.
  • There exists the opportunity for phishing emails being answered for the unwary and for those credentials to then be used to vote in a way contrary to the intent of the voter. Although given the size and scale of local elections the prospects would appear to be remote there is still the possibility that this could occur.
  • The benefit of a paper based voting system is that there is a fully reviewable chain of evidence that can be checked to make sure that the intent of the electorate has been properly ascertained.
  • The perception of election trustworthiness is important. A result needs to be generally accepted as being accurate and credible.  And breach of security around internet voting could irretrievably taint an election result.

And he said this about the use of paper ballots:

Paper has some fundamental properties as a technology that make it the right thing to use for voting. You have more-or-less indelible marks on the thing. You have physical objects you can control. And everyone understands it. If you’re in a polling place and somebody disappears with a ballot box into a locked room and emerges with a smirk, maybe you know that there is a problem. We’ve had a long time to work out the procedures with paper ballots and need to think twice before we try to throw a new technology at the problem. People take paper ballots for granted and don’t understand how carefully thought through they are.

Auckland Council’s proposal is for there to be a variety of voting techniques and I agree this is important.  Having digital to the exclusion of others would discriminate against those for who the internet is a somewhat foreign place, including the elderly and the poor.

The report itself says this about security:

No information technology (IT) or voting system is 100 per cent secure, but the Online Voting Working Party is committed to developing an online voting solution that will guarantee a similar or higher level of security than currently offered by postal voting.

I am not sure this will be enough.  Reputation wise any breach of an electronic system could be disastrous.”

And I admit that I have changed my mind on the issue.

If you live in Auckland and still want to vote the safest thing may be to drop your voting papers to your local library or service centre.

And if you have not received your papers you can still cast a special vote.

But please vote. A properly functioning democracy depends on it being as representative as possible.