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the Parliamentary Library’s Cyber and Digital Research Group
Dr Damon Muller and Philip Hamilton
Politics and Public Administration
This Quick Guide provides brief background information about
digital technology in relation to the electoral system, the Australian Electoral
Commission (AEC), and the Parliament.
system: electronic voting
Official investigations into electronic voting by Australian
electoral commissions and parliaments have generally been less than
enthusiastic about embracing large-scale electronic voting. There is a clear
preference for reserving its use for those voters who are not otherwise able to
vote, such as those who have a vision impairment or who are interstate or
In 2013 the Electoral Council of Australia and New Zealand
(ECANZ), a forum for Australian and New Zealand electoral commissions,
published a commissioned report on internet
voting in Australian election systems. The report noted that internet
voting for public elections remained rare and that there was no real need for
Australia to rush to such a fundamental change in the electoral process. It
noted that any moves towards internet voting would require robust risk
assessment and strong and informed public consensus in favour of the change.
The report recommended an initial focus on voters who would not otherwise be
able to vote, or cannot vote personally and in secret, such as voters with a
severe vision impairment.
In 2015 the Victorian Legislative Assembly referred electronic
voting to the Victorian Parliament’s Electoral Matters Committee for inquiry.
May 2017 report provided a comprehensive overview of electronic voting. The
Committee gave in-principle support to a system of remote voting at Victorian
state elections, but only for a limited category of voters, such as those who
are blind or have low vision, and overseas or interstate electors. The report
also recommended other reforms, such as electronic ballot paper scanning and
electoral roll mark-off.
Despite the relative rarity of electronic voting in
Australian elections, Australia actually has considerable experience with
electronic voting. Electronic
voting has been used in ACT elections since 2001. Electronic voting is
available only in pre-poll voting centres from three weeks before polling day,
and at some polling places on election day. Remote voting is not supported; votes
are not taken or transmitted over the Internet.
iVote is a remote internet voting system used in elections
in NSW and Western Australia. In 2017 the
NSW Electoral Commission conducted an inquiry into whether iVote is still
appropriate for NSW elections. One of the report’s recommendations was that
‘electoral commissions in Australia should jointly develop a national platform
for internet voting that could be jointly owned and maintained’. Many of the
other recommendations related to the security and risk management processes for
internet voting, in particular that the security of the system be thoroughly
tested and understood by the electoral commission and the government.
In its report
into the 2016 federal election, the Commonwealth Parliament’s Joint
Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM) argued against the adoption of
large-scale electronic voting, although the Committee noted that it could be
beneficial for certain groups of voters such as those with physical or mobility
JSCEM also produced an interim report on electronic voting as part of its
inquiry into the 2013 federal election. The recommendations of the report
focused on electronic roll mark-off and scanning of ballot papers.
The procurement and use of services
for the 2016 federal election, particularly the vote scanning process used to
count the votes for the new Senate voting system, was the subject of a 2018 Australian
National Audit Office (ANAO) report. The ANAO found that the procurement of
the Senate ballot paper scanning services did not constitute value for money,
and that the AEC accepted IT security risks above its usual tolerance. The AEC,
in response, argued that it was given only three months to implement the most
significant reforms to Australia’s electoral system in 30 years, and that
while the AEC was aware of the consequences of failing to implement the
reforms, the system that it put in place worked well.
Australian Electoral Commission: election
Through the Public
Service Modernisation Fund, the 2017–18
Budget allocated the AEC funding of $1.3 million over the forward estimates
to improve internal coordination, communication and capabilities.
In October 2018 the
AEC issued a Request for Information (RFI) as a preliminary step towards procurement
to support the design and delivery of an Election
Systems Modernisation program. The RFI documentation was reported
to have stated that ‘the vision for Election Systems modernisation is to
create an Integrated Roll and Election Management System (IREMS). The new IREMS
will replace the AEC legacy systems’. The
Electoral Commissioner is reported to have stated that ‘the overhaul was
not driven by any intention to introduce electronic voting’.
It has been reported
that the AEC will establish
‘a short-term, event based security monitoring of internal AEC systems, via the
provision of a 24x7 Security Operations Centre (SOC) ... until the end of the
2019 Federal Election’. An Australian academic has warned
of ‘potential Russian state-sponsored cyber interference in the forthcoming
Parliament House: cybersecurity
In the 2018–19
Budget, the Department of Parliamentary Services was allocated ‘$9.0
million over four years from 2018–19 (including $0.3 million in capital funding
in 2018–19)’ to establish a cybersecurity operations centre for the parliamentary
computing network, and $0.3 million was allocated to the four largest
parliamentary political parties ‘to improve the security of voter information
held by those parties’. In February 2019, there was a
malicious intrusion into the Parliament House computer network, and the
networks of some political parties were also affected.
House of Representatives: electronic
voting for divisions
In May 2018 the Leader of the House, Christopher
Pyne, noted that, according to the World
e-Parliament Report 2016 published by the Inter-Parliamentary
Union, ‘67% of respondent Parliaments use some form of IT system to support
voting in the plenary chamber’, and:
In April 2016, the bi-partisan House
of Representatives Standing Committee on Procedure in its report Division
Required? recommended that electronic voting be implemented in
the House of Representatives.
Pyne stated that electronic voting would be operational in the House of
Representatives in 2019 and ‘will reduce significantly the time required
for each vote in the chamber’. The December 2018 Mid-Year
Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) statement confirmed funding for the
The Government will provide up to $4.5 million over four
years from 2018-19 (including $2.2 million in capital funding in 2018-19) to
the Department of Parliamentary Services to provide electronic voting for
divisions in the House of Representatives Chamber [and] funding for this
measure has already been provided for by the Government.
It was reported
in December 2018 that the system would use a ‘highly secure phone app’ to allow
voting from within the chamber, with the time per vote reduced from six minutes
to one minute. Labor
noted that it had not been consulted by the Government on the plan, with
Labor’s Manager of Opposition Business, Tony Burke, reportedly stating that he
‘can’t imagine Labor supporting changes like this’.
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