From dirty politics to digital politics: a look at the country’s various online voting tools

As the greasing up kicks into high gear for the upcoming election, there are a range of digital tools being put to use, either to tempt youngsters out to vote, give guidance or join parties. Here are a few of them. 


Candidate, a web-based app designed to address the problem of low youth voter turnout, is the brainchild of 22-year-old Hannah Duder and was created with the help of a $10,000 seed grant from Derek Handley’s Shoulder Tap initiative and digital design company The Common Room.

Duder says it’s an issue that has been getting worse each election cycle in New Zealand, with 60 percent of 18-29 Kiwis not voting in 2011. So, with a nod to popular dating app Tinder, it asks users to swipe right or left if they agree or disagree with a series of policies (without knowing which party it belongs to). It then suggests a party match for you. 

As Duder told 3 news: 

“A lot of the youths say the reasons they weren’t voting was everything that was available to them, to let them know things like what a party is standing for or even who the parties are, was so boring and jargon-filled and biased – they didn’t want to touch it,” she says. “If they tried to do any research themselves, all the stuff that would come back would be either quite scandalous or an opinion piece – it’s very hard to sort through all of that and get a simple ‘here are the policies, here’s what they’re standing for and this is the party that looks like it could be for you’.”

While the kids are into Tinder, there is one issue with this: swiping is unlikely to lead to sexy time.  

Candidate also comes under the umbrella of the Virgin Voter Collective, which is made up of a bunch of organisations trying to get the yoof interested in politics and voting. And it’s made the logical choice and got Guy Williams onboard to promote a “viral YouTube” video.

On the Fence

Another idea that aims to guide young voters through the political catacombs, Design & Democracy, “which seeks to enhance participation and conversation on social issues through design”, and Springload gamified the process of choosing your political match with the sheep-themed On the Fence

As it says on the site: 

Research tells us that across Western Society, and particularly in New Zealand, there are an increasing number of young people who are making ill-informed and often no decision when it comes to voting. Many become peer pressured to vote, while others choose to abstain. The sheep metaphor represents the group mentality and lack of individual responsibility that is especially prevalent in the 18-25 year old target audience – the farm narrative and quirky characters provide a light-hearted look at a serious topic. To inexperienced voters, politics is perceived as boring, inaccessible and difficult to understand. On the Fence counteracts this by creatively guiding and educating young people into making informed voting choices. It doesn’t tell you how to vote or who to vote for, but it puts ‘trainer wheels’ on the future for many young people who believe that politics has no shaping influence in their lives.

On the Fence was originally launched as a 300-level student project by students from Massey University College of Creative Arts in 2011. In the  days before election day, over 30,000 Kiwis showed their support by playing, sharing and sending us some amazingly helpful feedbaaack

While these are nice executions, it’s still a tough sell. So the thing that will no doubt make the biggest difference to voter turnout will be the seemingly inevitable arrival of online voting, which is set to be trialled in 2016

Vote Compass

Another online that aims to match up voters with their best party is Vote Compass, which is being hosted by TVNZ in partnership with Vote Compass, leading universities and with the support of the Electoral Commission. 

Vote Compass claims to give a clear picture of how users’ views match with the different parties on questions of economy, education, health, the environment, taxation, and more. And, as of yesterday, TVNZ says more than 190,000 people had taken part and, since launch, it had become the third biggest source of visits to the Electoral Commission’s website, with over eight percent of overall visits coming direct from Vote Compass (The Electoral Commissio iss also using digital tools to attract the youth with the ivote.org.nz microsite)​. 

“Since the last election, the digital landscape and viewer behaviour has evolved from one screen to multiple connected devices,” says Jeremy O’Brien, TVNZ’s head of sales and marketing. “This has opened up a whole new world of social networking commentary and debate around political parties, leaders and policy. Vote Compass enables a dynamic relationship between viewer opinion, news content and voter engagement to capitalise on this changing behaviour in the world of new TV.”

Vote Compass takes a range of policy areas and asks you questions on a scale of ‘strongly agree’ to ‘strongly disagree’. It then compares your answers with the policy positions of the major political parties and responds by displaying your position on a grid, plotting where you stand in the overall political landscape.

Clifton van der Linden, founder and executive director of Vote Compass says: “The number of respondents so far has been incredible and it says a lot about the place and potential of social media in contemporary democratic practice. But more important than what the uptake says about Vote Compass is what it says about New Zealanders. It says that New Zealanders are politically engaged and that they care about how their society is governed. This may seem at odds with what we are often led to believe by recent statistics on voter turnout, but I think that it speaks to the need for new mechanisms by which citizens can engage with government and play a meaningful role in the processes of governance.”


Before social media allowed opinions to spew forth constantly from the hoi polloi, the worm, usually wheeled out for election debates, was one of the first ways an audience could react to what they were seeing. The Reactor (the original Worm I) first appeared in New Zealand on TVNZ for the Election Debate in 2002, then on TV3 in 2005, 2008 and during the live TV3 political debate in the 2011 NZ Election. And it’s back again this year, in partnership with Scoop. 

“The Reactor is ground-breaking as it enables crowd-sourced reactions to provide a precise picture of how specific developments, political promises and news events affect the public mood,” says Scoop publisher Alastair Thompson. “The art of political punditry is to interpret these things based on hunches and experience. The Reactor provides us pundits with data and evidence to back up our views. As a company with a strong lineage in digital innovation around election reporting, Scoop is delighted that in this, our sixth New Zealand election, we can innovate further and deliver a clearer understanding of just how New Zealand’s democracy is working on the inside.” 

This time, Roy Morgan and Scoop have launched an interactive multimedia feature which will run until the election on September 20 called Political Highs & Lows Of The Week, which will measure the immediate emotional reactions to the political messages people are receiving in the broadcast media each week.

It will also deploy the Mobile Reactor App to reach a wider audience. 

Party apps

The Internet Party, hence the name, is pretty big on digital tools. And it walked its walk by launching an iOS and Android app that allowed people to join the party as members. As Kim Dotcom said: “The Internet Party app is symbolic of everything the Internet Party represents.” 

And as Vikram Kumar said back in April: “While the app and website have allowed us to sign up members quickly and easily, we used a manual process to validate the 550 membership forms submitted to the Electoral Commission.” 

National has also released an iOS and Android app that aims to “keep you up to date with breaking news and informed about our plan to keep Working for New Zealand.”

“You’ll be able to see what John Key, National MPs and party supporters are doing on the campaign trail all over the country, and you’ll be able to like and share information – all in one place.” 


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