Politics and Public Administration
Following the 2016 federal election both the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader raised the possibility of introducing electronic voting at future elections.
Electronic voting promises benefits such as speed and secure ballot-handling, but has also identified concerns such as safety and cost.
On 10 July 2016, eight days after the federal election, Opposition
Leader Bill Shorten conceded defeat. Five seats were still in doubt
and 80 per cent of the votes had been counted. Mr Shorten also expressed frustration over the time taken for the election
result to be finalised and to confirm which party would form government. He called for electronic voting to be introduced,
...it shouldn't be taking 8 days to find
out who has won and who has lost. I actually think that it is long overdue to
look at electronic voting in this country. I think that we should, in a
bipartisan fashion set the ground work for electronic voting. We can't afford
to have our nation drift for 8 days after an election.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull also indicated that he had been ‘an advocate of
electronic voting for a long time’ adding:
...I would commend you to the work of the New South Wales
Electoral Commission which has been more enthusiastic than its Federal
counterpart. ... this is something we must look at. [It’s] been a passion of
mine, or an interest of mine for a long time.
What is meant by electronic voting?
Electronic voting covers the technology used to
facilitate the act of casting a ballot and to support the electoral process overall.
In relation to casting a ballot, electronic voting technologies include:
- electronically-assisted voting that enables
visually impaired voters to complete a ballot paper with the help of an
operator or through audio prompts on the phone, or via an electronic voting
- isolated static electronic voting where voters cast
their votes at polling stations on a stand-alone computer or a local area
network without an Internet connection and
- internet voting through various methods
including: static voting at polling places via dedicated computers or networks;
mobile internet voting using devices carried by visiting polling officials; and
remote internet voting where voters use any device with an Internet connection.
Technologies used to support the electoral process
more broadly include:
- electronic electoral rolls that enable voters to
enrol and update their enrolment online
- electronically certified lists (ECLs) that
enable voters to be marked off more accurately (and in real-time) at the
polling booth, and that also allow for declaration votes to be dealt with more
- electronic scanning and counting of ballot
Recent use of electronic voting technology in
At the 2007 federal election, the Australian Electoral
Commission (AEC) trialled electronic voting for groups such
as blind and low-vision voters. This evolved into the current method of
telephone voting for this group of voters. At the 2007 election, the AEC also trialled access to a secure computer
network through which Australian Defence Force personnel serving overseas could
At the 2013 federal election, the AEC piloted
the use of ECLs in select locations to introduce efficiencies into
the process of finding and marking voters off the electoral roll.
At the 2016 federal election, the AEC deployed
up to 1,500 ECLs that were used in high-volume early (pre-poll)
voting centres; at large polling places on election day; and by remote mobile
voting teams in over 40 electoral divisions throughout Australia. ECLs are currently
also being used in all electoral divisions to more efficiently
process the necessary checks against the electoral roll for voters who cast
declaration votes. The AEC also scanned millions of Senate ballot papers and
recorded voter preferences electronically.
voting in other jurisdictions
(for example, Brazil and Estonia) have either introduced or trialled electronic
voting in its various forms—but no internationally-agreed standards have
Overall, the Australian states and territories have
not embraced electronic voting to any great degree. Since 2001, the ACT has enabled
voting on locally-connected computers in some polling places, and NSW has used its
iVote system since 2011, which
enables remote voting over the Internet or by telephone at NSW state elections.
At the 2015 NSW election, people who are
vision-impaired, people with a disability, people who live more than 20
kilometres from their nearest polling place, or those who were interstate or
overseas on election day, were able to register their vote
using a web browser. The iVote system replaced in-person voting for all
voters outside NSW on election day.
Some 283,669 electors cast their vote through the iVote system, but it
was not without its problems. Two parties were omitted from the above-the-line
section of the electronic ballot paper for the NSW Legislative Council; there was reportedly a greater donkey vote than
that revealed on the paper ballot, and two academics claimed they had found a security
flaw in the system.
The NSW Electoral Commission has indicated that iVote will continue to replace postal voting,
interstate voting and overseas venues, and may be used in the future to take
absent votes at all pre-polls and select high-volume polling places. However,
it is not envisaged that iVote will replace normal
voting at polling places and pre-polls using paper ballots.
for and against electronic voting
by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM) in a 2014 report
on electronic voting, the main benefits of electronic voting for Australia are:
- provision of a secret ballot for blind and low-vision voters
- easier delivery of remote voting services and
In 2013, the House of Representatives Standing
Committee on Regional Australia recommended electronic voting
for ‘fly-in-fly-out’ workers as an aid to accessing the ballot.
The main concerns associated with electronic voting as identified
by the JSCEM are:
- safety, including the security, integrity and transparency of the
- cost and
- desirability, including the capacity to maintain the secrecy of
the vote and the effect on voter behaviour and confidence in the electoral
of electronic voting
In its inquiry into the 2013 federal election, the
JSCEM undertook an assessment of electronic voting options. The Committee identified:
...significant questions over the capacity of an
electronic voting solution to be both cost-effective and protect the security
and sanctity of the ballot in the Australian
context’, and concluded that ‘there can be no widespread introduction of
electronic voting in the near term without massive costs and unacceptable
The JSCEM also expressed concern over the potential for
electronic voting to ‘further disengage the community’ from the political
The JSCEM recommended measures adopted by the AEC in relation to aiding vision-impaired
voters, and called for an expansion of the assisted telephone voting system to
include voters with mobility or access issues.
inquiries following the 2004 and 2007 federal
elections also highlighted concerns that cost and security issues outweigh the
benefits of internet voting. The JSCEM report on the 2004 election also noted the contribution to Australia’s democracy of attending a polling
place, and expressed concern that this would be removed by widespread remote
A 2013 paper
on internet voting by the Electoral Council of Australia and New Zealand
recommended that any move towards its implementation should have ‘strong and
informed public and political consensus in favour of such a move’.
P Hamilton, ‘Voting online? Don’t count on it’, FlagPost, Parliamentary Library blog, 25 November 2014.
Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, Second interim report on the inquiry into the conduct of the 2013 federal election: An assessment of electronic voting options, Canberra, November 2014.
Electoral Council of Australia and New Zealand, Internet voting in Australian electoral systems, 10 September 2013.
D McKeown, New South Wales state election 2015, Research paper series, 2015–16, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2016, pp. 11–12.
D Muller, ‘iVote, therefore I am’, FlagPost, Parliamentary Library blog, 16 March 2015.
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