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Voting online? Don’t count on it


The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM) has just released An assessment of electronic voting options.

Sadly, for those of us who would rather be online than in line, the report concludes that ‘Australia is not in a position to introduce any large-scale system of electronic voting in the near future without catastrophically compromising our electoral integrity.’ The JSCEM chair, the Hon Tony Smith MP, observes that:

… enshrined within our system [is] the right to a secret vote. Voting at a booth in a polling place guarantees this; voting over the internet threatens this.

Internet voting would expose some voters to family and peer pressure by removing the individual isolation of voting at a secluded booth and replacing it with voting in a home, a workplace or a public place. It also potentially opens up a market for votes where disengaged or financially desperate voters could be offered money to vote a certain way, which could be verified in a way not possible at a polling place.

However, if voting online is not feasible, at least not at present, the JSCEM does see significant opportunities for technology to improve the administration of polling.

The report recommends the progressive replacement of the paper electoral roll at each polling booth with an interconnected electronic roll. This would mean that, when your name is crossed off and you are provided with a ballot, it will be almost simultaneously crossed off at every other booth, thereby reducing the opportunity for multiple voting in your name. It is suggested that this technology could be developed collaboratively and shared with the states and territories.

The report also recommends the scanning of ballot papers. This would enable an electronic count, and the results delivered minutes after the close of the polls, without the risks to electoral integrity posed by stand-alone electronic voting. A physical count of ballot papers could still be performed for verification.

If ballots are scanned for counting, they could also be stored digitally. Currently, ballot papers are destroyed after a prescribed number of years. If scanned and stored digitally, they could be retained indefinitely, and capture part of the electoral history of Australia.

The report also acknowledges the benefit to blind and low vision voters of telephone-assisted voting. The Committee recommends that, for the next federal election, electoral legislation should be amended to extend the availability of telephone-assisted voting to people with assessed mobility or access issues.

For most of us, though, it looks like we’ll be in line again at the next election. However, as we chat with our neighbours and ponder our choices, there may have been changes behind the scenes that improve the integrity of the electoral roll and the counting of ballots.
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