iVote, therefore I am

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis popularised the idea of the states being the ’laboratories of democracy‘, which seems like a good way to describe the moves towards electronic voting in NSW state elections. The 2015 NSW state election to be held on 23 March will involve what will be one of the largest binding elections involving remote internet voting in the world.

While remote internet voting was used in the NSW state election in 2011 on a smaller scale, the NSW Electoral Commission estimates that up to 200,000 voters will use iVote in the 2015 election. The success of the iVote system will be keenly watched by those with an interest in electronic voting.

Electronic voting itself is not new to Australia. The ACT has used electronic kiosks for pre-poll voting since 2001 for Assembly elections. The NSW iVote system, however, lets voters who have registered to use iVote lodge a vote using a web browser from their own computer. The NSW Electoral Commission have provided a demonstration site for those wishing to trial iVote.

While the iVote system used at the 2011 NSW state election was originally implemented as a voting solution for NSW’s 13,000 electors who are blind and 54,000 who have low vision, in practice almost all of the 43,025 NSW electors who lodged an electronic vote using a web browser in 2011 were people who stated that they were outside NSW on polling day. Fewer than 500 voters who were blind, had low vision, or who were illiterate lodged an electronic vote online.

Casting a vote using iVote is restricted to:

people who are blind or have low-vision, who have a disability, who live more than 20 kilometres from their nearest polling place or who will be interstate or overseas on election day.

Due to the availability of iVote, in-person voting at overseas missions will no longer be available for NSW state elections. The NSW Electoral Commission has stated that ’iVote is now the preferred voting option for all people voting from interstate or overseas‘. NSW voters who are interstate and want to vote in person may do so using an iVote terminal at interstate electoral commission offices.

One of the main concerns with remote electronic voting is the difficulty of ensuring the security and integrity of the vote, and much of the research into the topic is highly technical.

As discussed previously on Flagpost, the Second Interim Report of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters addressed the topic of electronic voting in Australia federal elections. The committee concluded that current electronic voting approaches posed an unacceptable trade-off between convenience and security in federal elections.

Dr Vanessa Teague from the University of Melbourne, an expert in electronic voting systems, states that the electronic voting system that will be used in NSW still has a number of privacy and security concerns.

The NSW Electoral Commission admit that completely secure and reliable electronic voting systems do not currently exist, but that systems such as iVote ’mitigate the risks by a mix of people, process and technology to give electors a high level of confidence in the electoral outcome’.

Given unexpectedly close state elections recently in South Australia, Victoria and Queensland, and polling that suggests the NSW state election might also be close, the operation and impact of electronic voting in NSW will be highly scrutinised. Problems such as that experienced in 2011 where 43 ballots were incorrectly recorded may potentially lead to complications in the declaration of results.

As a large-scale ’experiment‘ in remote electronic voting, it is likely that the experiences of iVote in the 2015 NSW state election will have a substantial impact, either positively or negatively, on future implementations of electronic voting in Australia.


Flagpost is a blog on current issues of interest to members of the Australian Parliament

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