Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/08/16/nsw_offline_elections/

In the burbs, elections remain an offline affair

NSW council poll gets no web mentions, emails and Facebook ignored

By Simon Sharwood

Posted in Government, 16th August 2012 22:15 GMT

As the US Presidential elections get closer the business end of proceedings, technology-watchers know they will soon see all sorts of stories about how technology is pressed into service to win votes. We expect apps galore, tweets by the cloud-load and more abuses of the term “Big Data” than anyone should be forced to endure.

But here in the Australian State of New South Wales (NSW), things are a little less organised and you'll be spared that techno-hype. A local government election on September 8th has, to date, attracted only tiny amounts of online activity.

Your correspondent makes this assertion on the basis of an attempt to contact the three major political parties duking it out in his local government area (LGA). I sent each an email with some simple questions about their policies.

Of the three, only The Greens, at the time of writing, even mention the local elections on their NSW website. The ALP and Liberal parties have nothing online.

The Greens make it possible to contact a local branch, thanks to a page listing every branch. At the time of writing, an email sent a week ago has not generated a response. There is a Facebook page for my local government area. It has won a grand total of 108 likes.

The ALP website offers a tool to find local branches, which inexplicably takes more than a minute to upload a single piece of data entered in a drop-down list.

The page eventually produced an email contact for a local branch. That contact person responded in 48 hours … to say he knows nothing about the election. That response did include another email address that, it was suggested, might link your correspondent to someone who knows something about the party’s platform at the election. But the party worthy who responded left it to your correspondent to make that connection: he didn’t even forward the inquiry, which speaks volumes about just how internet-ready the ALP machine is at grass roots level.

There's no ALP Facebook presence for my LGA, but a couple of ALP candidates have popped up pages that have well under 100 adherents.

The Liberal Party's NSW website contains no mention of or links to local branches. We therefore called the Party using voice telephony to ask how we could reach the local campaign. Reception at Liberal HQ expressed surprise such information was not available online, had no idea how to reach a local branch but promised to call back with details of someone who could answer our questions about local policy.

We’re still waiting for that call three days later. The party does have has a Facebook page, Liked a whole 16 times. It offers a lone post proclaiming it will be “... fielding a full team of candidates for the upcoming Local Council elections” and aims to “Restore the Balance” in my LGA.

Other LGAs have more online action. El Reg's antipodean eyrie is in the municipality of North Sydney, where the Jilly4Mayor campaign has a decent site and Facebook presence.

Such efforts appear the exception, not the rule, meaning that just three weeks out from the election, it looks like parties aren't sold on social media as a way to make grassroots connections.

Either that, or they just can't be bothered for council elections. ®