City of Wanneroo to ask WALGA and LGMA to consider electronic voting for local govt elections

An information session for prospective councillors for Mundaring has been organised.
An information session for prospective councillors for Mundaring has been organised.

INTRODUCING electronic voting is part of a call for the local government industry to explore strategies to increase voter participation in council elections.

The City of Wanneroo will ask the WA Local Government Association (WALGA) and the Local Government Managers Australia (LGMA) to explore strategies to improve voter turnout at WALGA’s north zone meeting tomorrow night.

The north zone covers the cities of Joondalup, Stirling and Wanneroo, and according to a report approved by the latter council earlier this month, all three had lower voter participation rates than the State average.

While the WA average was 27.5 per cent in the 2015 local government elections, the November 7 report said Joondalup’s turnout was 20.2 per cent, Stirling’s was 23.4 per cent and in Wanneroo, it was 21.9 per cent.

“Voting in local government elections is not compulsory in WA,” it said.

“Postal voting elections typically result in a higher participation rate by eligible electors than in-person voting, as postal voting offers most electors greater convenience and accessibility.”

Given the postal elections were run by the WA Electoral Commission (WAEC), the report recommended asking WALGA and LGMA assess the appropriateness of the commission being the sole provider of election services.

It also asked them to determine strategies to increase voter participation, including through electronic voting and to lobby for legislative change to support strategies identified through that process.

The report said internet voting had been successful in State elections in NSW and Victoria, where it either replaced attendance voting or was an additional option for voters.

“The main consideration for the City of Wanneroo’s report to WALGA north zone is for the industry to explore strategies to increase voter participation and possibly increase the efficiency of the electoral process,” it said.

“The solution may be a variety of election service providers and election methods such as a combination of postal and internet voting, which would accommodate the majority of the populace.”

The report said the election system of the candidate with the highest number of votes winning lent itself to electronic technology.

However it also acknowledged that public confidence in electronic voting may have been shaken by issues experienced during the 2016 Census, and security issues may mean having electronic equipment at polling stations might be preferable to online voting.

“Requiring voters to attend a polling station to use electronic equipment, although assisting with administration and the early determination of results, would possibly defeat the purpose of trying to increase participation,” it said.

The report stemmed from issues raised by the City with WAEC over delays in delivery of postal voting packages during last year’s election.

In April, the council labelled last year’s election process “disappointing and unacceptable” and called for reform.

Mayor Tracey Roberts said the City wanted to work through WALGA to engage all councils in the quest for “a more inclusive and efficient electoral process”.

“The full online voting option should be explored as the technology for our ‘first past the post’ voting system would be fairly simple,” she said.

Mrs Roberts said local government elections in WA typically occurred during the third-term school holidays when many families were not home to receive, complete or return postal votes.

“The timing of the delivery of postal voting packages has been shown to directly correlate to voter participation,” she said.

“We think it is appropriate and timely to consider alternative voting options, mindful that they may require amendments to the Local Government Act.”