House of Representatives Committees

Report on the 2007 federal election electronic voting trials

Interim report of the inquiry into the conduct of the 2007 eleciton and matters related thereto

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Chapter 3: Trial of remote electronic voting for Australian Defence Force personnel serving overseas

Evaluation approach

3.1

Prior to the 2007 federal election, Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel serving overseas primarily utilised postal voting services in order to cast their votes. In some limited cases, defence force personnel took advantage of pre-poll facilities provided by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) in major overseas centres or those that were established in operational areas to take pre-poll votes.

3.2 The 2007 trial of remote electronic voting allowed pre-registered ADF personnel in four selected areas of operation to cast a vote using a computer terminal.
3.3

The committee’s consideration of the success of the trial and its future implementation hinges on several issues:

3.4 The committee’s evaluation of the trial relies heavily on material prepared by the AEC, including the AEC’s own review and an evaluation undertaken by a consultant. In addition to this material, the committee has drawn on information provided by the Department of Defence (Defence) and the AEC in evidence to the 2007 election inquiry.

Background

3.5

While voting is compulsory for electors residing in Australia, electors who are outside of Australia on election day are not penalised if they do not vote.1 Nevertheless, it is important that defence force personnel serving overseas be given the maximum possible opportunity to vote.

3.6 The number and location of ADF personnel serving overseas and the areas of operation can vary from year to year (figure 3.1). At the time of the federal election in November 2007, there were around 3,500 personnel serving in a number of overseas locations including Iraq (1,575), Afghanistan (970), Timor-Leste (780) and the Solomon Islands (140).2
3.7

Prior to the trial, postal voting had been the main method by which defence force personnel serving overseas cast votes, although some limited pre-poll voting services have been provided at times — in 2001 mobile polling was undertaken in Timor-Leste where 1975 pre poll and postal votes were cast, although some of these votes may have been cast by other Australian Citizens at the consulate.3

Figure 3.1 – Indicative numbers of Australian Defence Force personnel deployed 1989–2007

Figure 3.1: Indicative numbers of Australian Defence Force personnel deployed 1989–2007

Source:Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Special Report Issue 5 - The final straw: Are our defence forces overstretched? (2007),p 2.

3.8

The Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 imposes deadlines for the delivery and receipt of postal ballots which the AEC and Defence headquarters need to take into consideration in the handling of postal voting applications and voting packs:

3.9 As noted in chapter 2, the 2007 election trial of remote electronic voting for selected ADF personnel serving overseas was a recommendation of the then Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters’ review of the 2004 federal election.
3.10 In coming to its recommendation that a trial of remote electronic voting be undertaken for overseas Australian Defence Force and Australian Federal Police (AFP) personnel and for Australians living in the Antarctic, the committee noted that postal voting is sometimes not a realistic option for these electors.7
3.11 The government response indicated its support for a remote electronic voting trial for defence force personnel, subject to satisfactory resolution by the AEC and the Department of Defence of systems and associated security issues. However, the inclusion of AFP personnel and Australians living in the Antarctic was not supported as part of the initial trial.8
3.12 An important change to the Commonwealth Electoral Act was made in 2007 to allow ADF and AFP personnel to be enrolled as General Postal Voters.9 This issue was raised with the committee by the Department of Defence as a way of overcoming delays in the issue and return of Postal Voting Applications.10
3.13 As noted in chapter 2, remote electronic voting is a feature in several countries. However, it is usually confined to sub-national jurisdictions such as state or local government elections and in most cases is conducted on a trial basis.
3.14

The only country that has utilised remote electronic voting for national elections is Estonia.11 The committee is also aware of the development by the US Department of Defence of an Internet-based electronic voting system to facilitate remote electronic voting for US military personnel serving overseas and US citizens residing overseas for the 2004 presidential election. That system (‘SERVE’) was subsequently shelved following concerns over system security.12

Overview of the trial

3.15

The 2007 election trial of remote electronic voting for ADF personnel serving overseas was limited to those who had access to the Defence Restricted Network (DRN) and who would be serving in Afghanistan, Iraq, Timor-Leste and the Solomon Islands at the time of the election.13

3.16 The trial specifically excluded naval ships on overseas deployment due to bandwidth and connectivity constraints.14
3.17 The DRN is a secure Department of Defence intranet site which is accessible remotely by Australian Defence Force personnel. Voting was not available on the world wide web.
3.18

The limited time available to develop the remote voting system resulted in the use of an abbreviated procurement process involving three selected service providers with experience in developing electronic voting systems. Some of the requirements for the system specified by the AEC included:

3.19 The preferred contractor, Registries Limited, was formally awarded the contract on 3 April 2007. Everyone Counts was a major subcontractor to Registries and was responsible for providing the voting software.16 The voting system, ‘eLect’, has been used by Everyone Counts to conduct internet-based elections for organisations and political parties.
3.20

The voting system was audited by a contractor accredited with the National Association of Testing Authorities. The contractor was asked to ensure that the voting system met the following criteria:

3.21

The audit contractor made the following findings and certified that the voting system complied with the specified criteria:

3.22

Internal and external communication by the Department of Defence was primarily relied on to inform potential users about the opportunity to cast a remote electronic vote. Approaches by Defence included:

provision of information during force preparation training prior to deployment;

warning order from Defence Headquarters in early August 2007;

support order from the Chief of Joint Operations, Defence Headquarters in early October 2007;

provision of information to Commanding Officers to provide to their troops in September 2007;

video conferencing with the Commanding Officers in the areas of operation, which included participation of staff from the AEC’s Electronic Voting Section; and

information posted on the Defence intranet.19

3.23 Information about the remote electronic voting trial was also available on the AEC’s website and an AEC officer visited Solomon Islands and Timor‑Leste in September and October 2007 to raise awareness about the trial.20
3.24

Eligible personnel were required to register prior to the election. The registration process involved a number of steps:

3.25

A full paper-based contingency process involving the distribution of postal votes to all Defence personnel registered as General Postal Voters was also put in place to provide all registered personnel with the opportunity to cast a postal ballot if required. Some of the reasons for this contingency included:

3.26

In all, 2,012 personnel registered to participate in the trial, representing 80 per cent of those eligible. Of these, 1,511 personnel cast their votes electronically.23 The proportion of registered eligible personnel was similar across each of the areas of deployment covered by the trial (figure 3.2).

Figure  3.2 – Remote electronic voting registrants as a proportion of ADF personnel deployed, by area of operation (per cent)

Figure 3.2: Remote electronic voting registrants as a proportion of ADF personnel deployed, by area of operation (per cent)

Source: Sheridan and Associates, Evaluation of the remote electronic voting trial for overseas based ADF personnel electors at the 2007 Federal Election: Final evaluation report (2008), p 20.

3.27 Around 50 per cent of defence personnel participating in the trial nominated ‘force preparation training’ and ‘information from commanding officer’ as the means by which they learned about the trial. The evaluation report noted the importance of force preparation training and of direct communication, although the relative importance of these means of communication varied across operational areas, with ‘warning order’ and ‘operational order’ being more prominent in the Solomon Islands than other locations.24
3.28

The proportion of registered voters that cast their vote electronically varied significantly across the areas of deployment covered by the trial, with 90 per cent of registered voters in Afghanistan and the Solomon Islands casting their vote electronically compared to 52 per cent in Timor‑Leste (figure 3.3).

Figure 3.3 – Remote electronic voters as a proportion of registrants (per cent)

Figure 3.3: Remote electronic voters as a proportion of registrants (per cent)

Source: Sheridan and Associates, Evaluation of the remote electronic voting trial for overseas based ADF personnel electors at the 2007 Federal Election: Final evaluation report (2008), p 23.

3.29

Based on responses from participants in the trial, the main reason provided for not voting electronically in Timor-Leste was that operational requirements prevented access to the DRN to allow voting. A secondary reason was a preference not to vote electronically. The evaluation report notes that:

This preference may have been to do with the lack of availability of terminals to vote in private leading to a sense of frustration, as illustrated by the following comment made by one respondent from Timor-Leste: “There were only two terminals for over 300 soldiers. This is ridiculous. I deserve complete anonymity like every other Australian.”25

3.30

The total cost of the remote electronic voting trial to the AEC and Defence was $1,750,915 (table 3.1). Defence received no additional resources for the conduct of the trial, with existing resources reprioritised.26

Table 3.1 – 2007 federal election remote electronic voting trial estimated costs


Cost Component Cost

Australian Electoral Commission

$786,915

   Salary

$245,375

   Operating expenses

$375,754

   Capital

$165,786

   Special items (included above)

 

        Total contractor costs

$479,186

        Audit

$59,801


Defence

$964,000

   Salary

$582,000 (a)

   Operating expenses

$382,000


Note: (a) Salary costs include direct salary comprising annual salary, allowances and accrued expenses (superannuation and accrued leave). Salary costs for ADF members also include indirect salary. Figure excludes fixed overheads. Unit Costs used in calculations are sourced from Defence Financial Manual (4). Calculations are based upon the estimated days worked by Defence resources for the trial for the period covering project commencement to end of January 2008.

Source: Australian Electoral Commission, Report into Remote Electronic Voting at the 2007 Federal Election for Overseas Australian Defence Force Personnel(2008), p 22.

3.31

Based on the estimated project costs and the number of votes cast, the average cost per vote was $1,159. When only the AEC’s costs are taken into account the average cost per vote falls to $521.27 Had all 2,500 eligible participants cast their vote electronically average costs would have been around $700 per vote. This compares to an average cost per elector of $8.36 at the 2007 federal election.28

3.32

The contractor’s evaluation of the trial highlighted the very high level of satisfaction with remote electronic voting among those who participated in the trial. Overall, 86 per cent of respondents to the evaluation survey were very satisfied or satisfied with the use of electronic voting machines. Those in Iraq had significantly lower levels of satisfaction compared to other locations (figure 3.4). This was attributed to a lack of information about candidates and parties and a lower level of knowledge regarding remote electronic voting.29

Figure 3.4 – Satisfaction with levels of service that remote electronic voting provided, by location (per cent)

Figure 3.4: Satisfaction with levels of service that remote electronic voting provided, by location (per cent)

Source: Sheridan and Associates, Evaluation of the remote electronic voting trial for overseas based ADF personnel electors at the 2007 Federal Election: Final evaluation report (2008), p 31.

3.33

When asked whether they would consider using electronic voting were it to be available at the next federal election or referendum, 95 per cent of survey respondents indicted that they would do so.30

The future of remote electronic voting for Australian Defence Force personnel serving overseas

3.34 The success of the trial can be demonstrated in a number of ways including the technical operation of the voting system over the DRN, the high level of acceptance by personnel casting their votes and the significantly higher number of overseas defence force personnel who are known to have voted at the 2007 federal election compared to previous elections.
3.35 These successes need to be balanced against concerns over the potential impact of remote electronic voting in operational areas, the cost of the trial and concerns over security and transparency.
3.36

Both the AEC and Defence considered the remote electronic voting trial to be an overall success. The AEC considered that:

The trial demonstrated that remote electronic voting for personnel deployed overseas provided a convenient, reliable and secure method of voting in a federal election with voter feedback indicating a high level of satisfaction with the level of service provided by remote electronic voting.31

3.37

Defence shared this but noted the significant challenges in delivering the trial:

Defence considers the trial to be a significant achievement given the tight implementation schedule and the complexity of conducting the trial in a military operational environment with long and sometimes difficult lines of communication. The trial demonstrated that remote electronic voting for personnel deployed overseas can provide a convenient, reliable and secure method of voting in a federal election. Individual voter feedback also indicated a high level of satisfaction with the level of service provided by remote electronic voting.

Technical challenges in hosting electronic voting on the defence restricted network were experienced initially, which placed the trial at risk. Some very innovative work by members of Defence Information Group produced an excellent technical solution that worked well and enabled the trial to be conducted successfully.

3.38 In its initial submission to the committee, the AEC supported continuation of the remote electronic voting for ADF personnel serving overseas, and stated that eligibility should be extended to include members of the AFP serving overseas, remotely posted AusAid or Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade staff and Antarctic electors.33 To gain some perspective on the potential numbers of such an extension, in early 2007 there were around 375 AFP personnel deployed overseas and around 200 staff are based in the Antarctic during the summer period, falling to around 80 staff in winter.34
3.39

The AEC told the committee that it had undertaken preliminary discussions with the Australian Antarctic Division on their communication network with the Antarctic bases, which have an ‘in-confidence’ rating on their network.35 Although this network was acknowledged by the AEC to be not as secure as the DRN, the AEC nevertheless considered that:

Secure electronic voting for Australian Antarctic personnel is technically achievable. However, more detailed investigation would need to be undertaken to determine suitability of the network for electronic voting, and which would also involve working with the successful e-voting application contractor. For the Defence Trial of electronic voting PINs were issued by mail. An alternate means of delivery would need to be implemented to cater for Antarctic electors.36

3.40

While no other inquiry participants commented directly on continuing remote electronic arrangements for ADF personnel serving overseas at future elections, there was support for an expansion of this facility to other groups or the general community via the internet.37

Operational impact

3.41 It is clear that there was an additional burden on the AEC and Defence to develop the remote electronic voting system and ensure that the system runs smoothly. There is also some additional work for the AEC at divisional office level to follow up on voter registration to confirm that an elector’s details are accurate.38 Although ‘back office’ administrative burdens are relevant, the key issue for the committee is whether remote electronic voting places a significant additional burden on defence personnel in operational areas.
3.42

Feedback from Defence on the workloads experienced by their operational headquarters in Australia and in areas of operation noted the considerable extra effort that was required as part of the trial:

This reliance upon paper based mechanisms to support electronic voting had unintended impacts and caused a significant workload for people in operational headquarters in Australia and in the areas of operation. The main tasks involved were to confirm registration of deployed ADF members for the trial and to ensure the distribution of envelopes containing PINs in the areas of operation. The need for redundant processes via GPV ballots in the event of technical failure further increased the administrative workload on taskforce personnel. The paper‑based registration systems for electronic voting and for the GPV had similar administrative requirements for voter registration and the distribution of enabling information to the voter by mail. That said, it is recognised that the distribution of postal votes in areas of operation would have been a normal federal election requirement.

… Defence views the joint electronic voting trial with the AEC as a success. The trial proved that an electronic voting capability can be provided. A key lesson was that the reliance on paper based mechanisms can create an unintentional additional administrative workload in the operational environment.39

3.43 While the electronic delivery of PINs was suggested by the evaluation contractor as a means of reducing reliance on paper, it is not clear that the postal voting contingency can be done away with for several reasons. These include the potential for the DRN to be unavailable for operational reasons, deployed personnel not being able to attend facilities to connect to the DRN and technical failures with on-site equipment.
3.44

Defence acknowledged that their preference was to utilise a voting system that minimised the administrative burdens on personnel in operational areas:

My preference, or Defence’s preference, would be, I expect, for the greatest efficiency in the areas of operation, because we do not want to burden our people in the areas of operation with extra administrative tasks that distract them from the tasks at hand that they are there for. That is why I would state that preference.

… I think refining GPV would make it more efficient than last time. The aspirational goal that you could probably reach is having electronic voting that needed no paper‑based administration. I guess that was the aspirational goal you could aim at. The problem is whether that is actually achievable.40

3.45

It is clear that the feedback from Defence indicates that an electronic voting system which also requires a full paper- based contingency imposes additional administrative requirements on operational areas.

Turnout

3.46 In addition to the technical success of the trial, the contractor’s evaluation pointed to the associated higher turnout on the part of Defence force personnel in 2007 compared to the 2004 election.41
3.47 At the 2007 federal election, of a potential pool of around 2,500 participants eligible to utilise remote electronic voting and around 3,500 personnel deployed overseas, 1,740 votes were cast (1,511 electronically, 212 postal vote and 17 using another type of vote). It is unknown whether votes were cast by 488 personnel eligible to vote using remote electronic voting or whether the 969 who were not eligible to cast their vote electronically voted.42
3.48 At the 2004 election, the contractor’s evaluation noted that there were 472 postal voting applications from around 1,361 ADF personnel who may have been deployed at the time of the election. Of these, 219 postal votes were received and 92 pre-poll votes issued to those who had registered for a postal vote. It is unknown how, or whether, the remaining 889 overseas deployed personnel voted.43
3.49

While the ‘known’ number of defence force personnel serving overseas who cast a vote at the 2007 election appears significantly higher than in 2004, strict comparisons between turnout at the last two federal elections are affected by differences in place in 2007:

3.50 Given that it is not possible to conduct an ‘apples with apples’ comparison, the committee considers that in terms of turnout, the benefits of the trial can be overstated. While the conduct of the trial undoubtedly increased awareness of the election, it is difficult to determine what the turnout would have been using paper-based voting systems in the absence of the remote electronic voting option. Even so, the opportunity for defence personnel serving overseas will always be subject to the operational needs within the area of deployment at the time of the election.
3.51

With many of the costs associated with the trial fixed, the level of turnout directly affects the average costs per vote. As previously highlighted, the average cost for the 1,511 personnel who voted electronically was $1,159 and had all 2,500 eligible participants cast their vote electronically average costs would have been around $700 per vote. This compares to an average cost per elector of $8.36 at the 2007 federal election.44 Given the uncertainty over both the number and location of future deployments of ADF personnel overseas, it is difficult to determine the average cost if remote electronic voting for overseas ADF personnel was implemented generally.

Security and transparency

3.52 The restricted nature of the trial and the use of the DRN rather than another Defence network or the internet was seen by the AEC as creating a secure environment for remote electronic voting.41
3.53 In chapter 3, the committee noted general concerns with remote electronic voting overseas which have, in the opinion of the Computing Research and Education Association Australasia, raised uncertainty over the adoption or expansion of remote electronic voting in a number of countries.42
3.54

While ADF personnel using remote electronic voting were able to check that their vote had been cast as intended, the Computing Research and Education Association Australasia, pointed out that this does not necessarily mean that the vote actually printed on to the ballot paper reflected the vote cast. Contrasting the verification process with postal voting, the Association considered that using the DRN for the trial did not necessarily overcome security and transparency issues:

Running the system on the DRN does not automatically solve these issues. It certainly does not solve the issue of transparency and accountability, namely providing evidence that the votes printed out by the system genuinely reflect the intentions of the voters. It is inappropriate for the legislation to treat these printouts as equivalent to real ballots – they are not, because there is a gap between the voter and the printout in which a malicious hacker, an accidental program error or a hardware fault could produce an incorrect result. There is no evidence of vote privacy that is nearly as convincing as the postal voter’s chance to put their own vote in their double envelope.

3.55 Although high confidence levels were expressed by ADF personnel in the value of the vote checking service, survey responses by one user did reveal some possible distrust in the system, with the respondent noting that ‘if the system was flawed, the check would be too’.47
3.56

The Computing Research and Education Association Australasia also noted some concerns with the audit report of the eLect system and considered that a number of comments in the report are ‘particularly unclear’.49 The Association noted that:

The most disturbing aspect of this report is that it makes no mention of having inspected the source code for security vulnerabilities. Instead the source code evaluation focused on detecting deliberately malicious code within the source itself. Although this is important, it is far more likely that the designers and programmers accidentally left security holes that could be exploited by an external hacker. Such vulnerabilities would not be obvious from even quite extensive testing (though such testing is also important), because they would be extremely subtle. It is vitally important for experts to inspect the source code and evaluate the design, and thus form an argument about why the system is secure. Designing and evaluating secure software is notoriously difficult. Even under considerable expert scrutiny, some vulnerabilities may still slip past unnoticed. … That the audit report does not even mention attempting this kind of analysis is very unfortunate. Their comment that the system was “designed, written and documented in a manner that could broadly be described as industry standard” is not encouraging.50

3.57

The issue of vote verification with remote electronic voting systems was acknowledged by the Computing Research and Education Association Australasia as virtually impossible to achieve.51 Given this limitation, the Association considered that a range of alternative options should be considered:

We understand that there is a large group of voters who are, most unfortunately, disenfranchised by communications problems. We agree that it is important to address their needs, but don’t believe that remote electronic voting is justified before the security and accountability problems are solved.

We suggest considering alternative ways of using the communications infrastructure of the Internet (or the DRN) without necessarily trusting it. Some possibilities worth considering are:

We are not advocating either of these strongly, simply pointing out that there may be ways to use the communication advantages of an electronic network while preserving security and accountability. A similar proposal is included in the SERVE security report.52

3.58 While the committee is confident that the remote electronic voting system hosted by the DRN used for the trial operated securely and effectively, it should be acknowledged that such a remote electronic voting system is not able to provide as transparent a process as alternatives such as postal voting.
3.59 That said, there may be delays associated with the delivery of mail into and out of operational areas. Defence told the committee that the time period for the delivery of mail from Australia varies across operational areas, with weather delaying mail in some cases by two to three days and sometimes up to a week and that unserviceable aircraft could also lead to delays. There was a ‘very small risk’ that delays could be as long as 15 days.53
3.60

Any proposals to extend the system to networks other than the DRN (including the internet) will need to clearly demonstrate that the system is reliable and secure and be able to be confidently relied on by the community.

Committee conclusion

3.61 The committee appreciates the work of the Department of Defence and the Australian Electoral Commission on conducting the remote electronic voting trial.
3.62 While a higher number of votes were known to have been cast by defence force personnel serving overseas at the 2007 federal election, not all of the increase can be solely attributed to the remote electronic voting trial.
3.63 It is unlikely that any single voting system will guarantee that defence force personnel serving overseas will be able to cast a vote and have that vote included in the count.
3.64 This suggests that multiple systems should be deployed to maximise voting opportunities. However, the committee considers that while the objective should always be to give ADF personnel the maximum available opportunity to vote, the chief concern should be that the voting system imposes the least possible burden on personnel in operational areas.
3.65 Remote electronic voting may increase the likelihood that a vote cast by personnel serving overseas will be included in the count by avoiding some of the logistical delays that can be associated with the movement of paper‑based postal voting systems in areas of operation.
3.66 While remote electronic voting without a paper backup would impose a lesser burden on operational areas than the system trialled at the 2007 election, the committee considers that risks remain that personnel may not have the opportunity to cast their vote remotely for operational reasons. Therefore, a paper-based backup would continue to be a required feature of any remote electronic voting model. As a result, in the committee’s view, any remote electronic voting model will bring with it an increased impact on operational areas because of the technical facilities required to support remote electronic voting and the requirement to move increased amounts of paper based mail into and around operational areas.
3.67 The average cost per vote cast for the remote electronic voting trial, at $1,159 per vote, is significantly higher than the average cost per elector of $8.36 at the 2007 federal election. While an average of 2,200 ADF personnel have been deployed overseas in recent federal election years, this can change significantly between elections. For example, only 600 ADF personnel were deployed overseas in 1998 but by 2001 there were 3,300 ADF personnel overseas, most of whom were in East Timor.
3.68 Given the uncertainty over both the number and location of future overseas deployments of ADF personnel, the committee considers that the additional costs associated with electronic voting are not warranted, particularly if overseas deployments do not rise significantly from the current level of around 3,000 personnel across 12 areas of operation.
3.69 Under a purely paper-based system, the impact of operations on the likelihood of personnel being able to complete their vote is lower, as personnel have more opportunity to complete their vote without relying on the availability of terminals and a connection to the DRN. However, paper-based postal voting systems will continue to be subject to the potential risks associated with delays in the delivery and return of mail from operational areas.
3.70 The committee considers that, on balance, a solely paper-based system is more reliable, and imposes fewer burdens on ADF personnel in operational areas, than a system based on remote electronic voting which inevitably requires a paper-based backup.
3.71 The committee therefore considers that remote electronic voting for ADF personnel serving overseas should be discontinued and there should be a renewed focus on making paper-based systems more efficient than they currently are.
 
Recommendation 1
3.72

Given the additional burden imposed by remote electronic voting with its paper-based backup systems on defence force personnel in operational areas and the relatively high average cost of voting at $1,159 per vote compared to an average cost per elector of $8.36 at the 2007 federal election, the committee recommends that remote electronic voting for defence force personnel should not be continued at future federal elections.

 
3.73

The committee has examined a number of different approaches to improving paper-based voting systems for ADF personnel in the following section. In the committee’s view these appear to offer more reliable opportunities for overseas defence personnel to cast their votes and have them included in the count than a remote electronic voting model with paper-based contingency arrangements.

Alternative voting arrangements for Australian Defence Force personnel serving overseas

3.74 Given Defence’s preference to move away from a remote electronic voting model with the additional workloads required to ensure contingency arrangements and the committee’s belief that a paper-based system imposes less of a burden in operational areas, the committee explored with Defence and the AEC a number of alternative models that could be used.
3.75 In considering the proposed arrangements, it is important to re-state that the objective is to find a solution that both maximises voting opportunities for ADF personnel overseas and at the same time imposes the least possible burden in operational areas.
3.76 While the solution may require considerable additional effort on the part of the AEC and Defence headquarters in Australia, such an outcome is preferable to one that imposes lower costs overall but has a greater impact in areas of operation.
3.77

There are two main models examined by the committee involving:

Streamlining postal voting arrangements

3.78

It is recognised that a paper-based postal voting system is currently subject to a number of constraints that may lead to personnel not being able to cast a vote or those postal votes not being included in the count as a result of delays in returning mail to AEC divisional offices within the deadlines provided for in the Commonwealth Electoral Act. However, during discussions with Defence and the AEC it became apparent that there are a number of opportunities to further streamline the postal voting system for defence personnel to both maximise voting opportunities and increase the likelihood that a vote can be included in the count.

General postal voter registration
3.79 As previously discussed, prior to the 2007 election the Commonwealth Electoral Act was amended to allow defence force personnel serving overseas to become general postal voters.
3.80 Being registered as a general postal voter is more likely to ensure that a postal voting pack will be dispatched by the AEC at the earliest opportunity, usually on the Monday following the close of nominations.
3.81 If ADF personnel have not registered as general postal voters, they may apply for a postal vote using normal means, which could include downloading a Postal Vote Application (PVA) from the AEC’s website, filling in and signing the form and posting (or emailing the scanned and signed form) to the AEC. If this method is utilised from an area of operation, the timelines for moving postal vote applications back to Australia may mean that postal voting packs are not able to be dispatched at the earliest opportunity, thereby reducing the time available for a vote to be cast and returned.
3.82

One possible method of streamlining postal voting arrangements is for the Commonwealth Electoral Act to be amended to provide for ‘automatic’ registration of personnel serving overseas as general postal voters. This would require some collaboration between Defence and the AEC to identify the relevant enrolled electors and their area of operation mailing address. This could be done on a regular basis in the lead up to an election or possibly as soon as an election is called.

Meeting deadlines for the return of postal votes
3.83 As previously noted, the Commonwealth Electoral Act imposes a deadline of 13 days after polling day for the receipt of postal votes by the relevant Divisional Returning Officer.
3.84

There are several opportunities to improve the likelihood that postal votes from overseas defence personnel are included in the count which would require amendments to the Commonwealth Electoral Act and changed administrative arrangements including:

Assistant returning officer model

3.85 The ‘Assistant Returning Officer’ (ARO) model is largely based on existing systems used by the AEC to conduct polling in more than 100 overseas posts.55 The AEC supported the use of the ARO model and noted that this is similar to that used in Timor-Leste in the 2001 federal election.56
3.86

In consultation with Defence, the AEC outlined some of the key features of such a model:

3.87

Defence outlined the possible advantages and disadvantages of the ARO model, relative to the postal voting only and remote electronic voting models. Possible advantages included:

3.88

Disadvantages highlighted by Defence were:

Difficulties with materials/equipment in the pre-election period reaching areas of operation and being retained in readiness for the election in sometimes adverse conditions;

Difficulties for AROs in printing sufficient ballot papers from the Defence intranet if the AEC printed ballot papers are delayed arriving in the areas of operation;

Operational needs may prevent personnel from attending to vote or for the AROs conducting mobile polling;

Defence would need to provide staff at their own cost as the AEC is unable to supply civilians in areas of operation; and

There may be an additional demand on operational air assets to provide transport to the overseas defence voting team.59

3.89

The committee notes that such a voting system is likely to be undertaken without the presence of scrutineers, thereby possibly reducing the transparency of the voting process compared to pre-poll voting in Australia where polling is undertaken in the presence of scrutineers.

Committee Conclusion

3.90 The committee considers that in addition to minimising impacts on operational areas, it is important that voting systems for defence force personnel deployed overseas provide flexibility both within and across areas of operation so that voting opportunities are maximised.
3.91

The ARO model proposed and supported by Defence and the AEC appears to provide for maximising voting opportunities at the same time as increasing the likelihood that votes are returned in time to be included in the count.

3.92 The committee recognises that there may be a reduction in transparency in this model through the absence of scrutineers at the time of voting. However, this is largely offset by the provision of more reliable voting services.
3.93 Such a model also gets the necessary ‘buy in’ by Defence into the voting process. While voting will always be subject to operational requirements, it is important that voting receives sufficient attention and priority from Defence to ensure that systems are in place to facilitate voting wherever possible.
3.94 The electronic voting trial demonstrated that a high turnout could be achieved where awareness about voting opportunities was well publicised and where dedicated resources were directed to making this happen. It is important that the AEC and Defence build on the cooperation that has developed as a result of this experience so that, whatever model is put in place at future elections, there remains a strong commitment to facilitate voting for our overseas defence force personnel.
3.95 The committee considers that the ARO model proposed by the AEC and Defence as their preferred model for voting by overseas ADF personnel, is the most appropriate and should be used at the next federal election. While there may be a significant amount of detail to be resolved the model builds on existing systems used by the AEC to support voting overseas.
3.96

Implementation of the ARO model will require some changes to the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918. These include allowing for the appointment of assistant returning officers, arrangements to facilitate the return and counting of votes and streamlining of postal voting processes for areas of operation where the ARO model is not appropriate. It is important that maximum flexibility is provided in the Act to allow Defence and the AEC to provide voting services in the many different circumstances that are experienced in areas of operation.

 
Recommendation 2
3.97

Given the support of the Department of Defence and the Australian Electoral Commission for the ‘Assistant Returning Officer’ (ARO) model that is likely to increase the probability that defence force personnel serving overseas can cast a vote and have it included in the count, the committee recommends that the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 be amended to facilitate the implementation of the ARO model for voting by selected Australian Defence Force personnel serving overseas. The model should have the following features:

 
 
Recommendation 3
3.98

Given the importance of gaining full commitment by the Department of Defence to the implementation of the ‘Assistant Returning Officer model, the committee recommends that the Department of Defence ensure that an officer at a suitable level of rank be appointed to oversee electoral operations and to ensure those operations are conducted and resourced effectively.

 

Footnotes

1 Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918, s 245(4).
2 Parliamentary Library, ‘Briefing book for the 42nd parliament, Current Australian Defence Force Deployments’, viewed on 6 January at www.aph.gov.au/library/pubs/BriefingBook42p/09DefenceSecurityandTerrorism/CurrentADFDeployments.htm.
3 Australian Electoral Commission, The 2001 Election Report (2002), Appendix B: List of Overseas Posts and Votes Issued, Behind the Scenes, CD Rom.
4 Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918, s 184.
5 Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918, s 184A(2)(h).
6 Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918, s 228(5A).
7 Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, The 2004 election: Report of the inquiry into the conduct of the 2004 federal election and matters related thereto (2005), p 270.
8 Australian Government, ‘Government Response to the Report of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, The 2004 Federal Election; Report of the Inquiry into the Conduct of the 2004 Federal Election and Matters Related Thereto’, p 20, viewed on 3 November 2008 at www.aph.gov.au/house/committee/em/elect04/Report/govres.pdf (PDF 2.1 MB).
9 Australian Electoral Commission, submission 169, Annex 3 (PDF 666 KB), p 34.
10 Department of Defence, submission 132 to the 2004 election inquiry (PDF 131 KB), p 4.
11 Estonian National Electoral Committee, ‘Internet voting in Estonia’, viewed on 7 January 2009 at www.vvk.ee/english/Internet_Voting_in_Estonia.pdf.
12 Jefferson D, Rubin A, Simons B and Wagner D, A security analysis of the Secure Electronic Registration and Voting Experiment (SERVE) (2004).
13 Australian Electoral Commission, Report into Remote Electronic Voting at the 2007 Federal Election for Overseas Australian Defence Force Personnel (2008), p 4.
14 Australian Electoral Commission, Report into Remote Electronic Voting at the 2007 Federal Election for Overseas Australian Defence Force Personnel (2008), p 4.
15 Australian Electoral Commission, Report into Remote Electronic Voting at the 2007 Federal Election for Overseas Australian Defence Force Personnel (2008), p 34.
16 Australian Electoral Commission, Report into Remote Electronic Voting at the 2007 Federal Election for Overseas Australian Defence Force Personnel (2008), p 34.
17 BMM Australia, Audit and certification of a remote electronic voting system for overseas Australian Defence Force personnel (2007), p 1.
18 BMM Australia, Audit and certification of a remote electronic voting system for overseas Australian Defence Force personnel (2007), p 1.
19 Sheridan and Associates, Evaluation of the remote electronic voting trial for overseas based ADF personnel electors at the 2007 Federal Election: Final evaluation report (2008), p 27.
20 Sheridan and Associates, Evaluation of the remote electronic voting trial for overseas based ADF personnel electors at the 2007 Federal Election: Final evaluation report (2008), p 27.
21 Australian Electoral Commission, Report into Remote Electronic Voting at the 2007 Federal Election for Overseas Australian Defence Force Personnel (2008), p 17.
22 Australian Electoral Commission, Report into Remote Electronic Voting at the 2007 Federal Election for Overseas Australian Defence Force Personnel (2008), p 17.
23 Australian Electoral Commission, Report into Remote Electronic Voting at the 2007 Federal Election for Overseas Australian Defence Force Personnel (2008), p 5.
24 Sheridan and Associates, Evaluation of the remote electronic voting trial for overseas based ADF personnel electors at the 2007 Federal Election: Final evaluation report (2008), p 29.
25 Sheridan and Associates, Evaluation of the remote electronic voting trial for overseas based ADF personnel electors at the 2007 Federal Election: Final evaluation report (2008), p 24.
26 Australian Electoral Commission, Report into Remote Electronic Voting at the 2007 Federal Election for Overseas Australian Defence Force Personnel (2008), p 22.
27 Australian Electoral Commission, Report into Remote Electronic Voting at the 2007 Federal Election for Overseas Australian Defence Force Personnel (2008), p 22.
28 Australian Electoral Commission, Electoral Pocketbook 2007, p 73.
29 Sheridan and Associates, Evaluation of the remote electronic voting trial for overseas based ADF personnel electors at the 2007 Federal Election: Final evaluation report (2008), p 31.
30 Sheridan and Associates, Evaluation of the remote electronic voting trial for overseas based ADF personnel electors at the 2007 Federal Election: Final evaluation report (2008), p 56.
31 Australian Electoral Commission, submission 169 (PDF 5 MB), p 60.
32 Needham A, Department of Defence, transcript, 17 October 2008 (PDF 351 KB), pp 43–44.
33 Australian Electoral Commission, submission 169 (PDF 5 MB), p 60.
34 Australian Federal Police, ‘The Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade: Inquiry into Australia’s involvement in peacekeeping operations: The Australian Federal Police submission March 2007’ viewed on 20 January 2009 at www.afp.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/37608/MAR_-_Senate_Inquiry_into_peacekeeping_-_Submission_doc_-_29_Mar.pdf; Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts Australian Anarctic Division, ‘People in Antarctica’, viewed on 20 January 2008 at www.aad.gov.au/default.asp?casid=6236
35 Australian Electoral Commission, submission 169.6 (PDF 199 KB), p  9.
36 Australian Electoral Commission, submission 169.6 (PDF 199 KB), p 10.
37 Software Improvements, submission 138 (PDF 361 KB), p 1; Southern Cross Group, submission 158 (1.4 MB), pp 45–46; Registries and Everyone Counts, submission 160 (1.4 MB), p 3; Blind Citizens Australia, submission 81 (207 KB), p 4.
38 Australian Electoral Commission, Report into Remote Electronic Voting at the 2007 Federal Election for Overseas Australian Defence Force Personnel (2008), p 25.
39 Needham A, Department of Defence, 17 October 2008 (PDF 351 KB), p 44.
40 Needham A, Department of Defence, 17 October 2008 (PDF 351 KB), p 53.
41 Sheridan and Associates, Evaluation of the remote electronic voting trial for overseas based ADF personnel electors at the 2007 Federal Election: Final evaluation report (2008), p 26.
42 Sheridan and Associates, Evaluation of the remote electronic voting trial for overseas based ADF personnel electors at the 2007 Federal Election: Final evaluation report (2008), p 26.
43 Sheridan and Associates, Evaluation of the remote electronic voting trial for overseas based ADF personnel electors at the 2007 Federal Election: Final evaluation report (2008), p 25.
44 Australian Electoral Commission, Electoral Pocketbook 2007, p 73.
45 Australian Electoral Commission, submission 169 (PDF 5 MB), p 59.
46 Computing Research and Education Association Australasia, submission 116.2 (116 KB), p 3.
47 Computing Research and Education Association Australasia, submission 116.2 (116 KB), p 3.
48 Sheridan and Associates, Evaluation of the remote electronic voting trial for overseas based ADF personnel electors at the 2007 Federal Election: Final evaluation report (2008), p 39.
49 Computing Research and Education Association Australasia, submission 116.1 (PDF 1 MB), pp 5–6.
50 Computing Research and Education Association Australasia, submission 116.1 (PDF 1 MB), pp 5–6.
51 Teague V, Computing Research and Education Association Australasia, transcript, 12 August 2008 (PDF 376 KB), p 58.
52 Computing Research and Education Association Australasia, submission 116.2 (116 KB), p 4.
53 Robinson G, Department of Defence, transcript, 17 October 2008 (PDF 351 KB), p 49.
54 Computing Research and Education Association Australasia, submission 116.2 (116 KB), p 4.
55 Australian Electoral Commission, submission 169.11 (PDF 139 KB), p 5.
56 Australian Electoral Commission, submission 169.11 (PDF 139 KB), p 1.
57 Australian Electoral Commission, submission 169.11 (PDF 139 KB), p 5.
58 Australian Electoral Commission, submission 169.11 (PDF 139 KB), p 5.
59 Australian Electoral Commission, ssubmission 169.11 (PDF 139 KB), p 5.

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