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What the feds can learn from NSW about e-voting

Byron Connolly | July 12, 2016
Ian Brightwell, the former NSW Electoral Commission CIO, discusses his experience with e-voting during the 2015 state election and what can be changed at a federal level.

During this month's federal election, Ian Brightwell was asked by the Australian Electoral Commission to work at a pre-polling place at Crows Nest on Sydney's North Shore.

"They were looking for people who know how elections work," he told CIO Australia.

Brightwell was certainly the right person for the job. He was formerly director of IT and CIO at the NSW Electoral Commission - a role he quit in March - and a big advocate for electronic voting as a means to gain greater electoral integrity.

The commission introduced e-voting during the 2015 state election for voters who are disabled, blind or have low vision, and those who were outside NSW on election day.

On election day, Brightwell was also the 'officer in charge' of a joint polling place in Chatswood, Sydney.

"Everything I've been saying over the years about the paper voting system being less than perfect, got rammed by in my face when I worked on election day," Brightwell said.

"I took about 1,250 votes and the other one [polling place] took about 1,426. They took 666 absent votes with five issuing points, they were just hammered. I had three issuing points for in-division votes with a 50-metre queue where people were waiting for up to an hour.

"And you're sitting there saying, 'this is not real good'. We were also screaming all day to get ballot papers and you're thinking, 'this is not how it's supposed to be'."

His comments come as prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, and Labor leader, Bill Shorten, earlier this week pushed for e-voting to be introduced with counting still not complete in five vital seats since election weekend. 

During the 2015 NSW election, the iVote system was used to cast around five per cent of votes, or 280,000 out of 4.5 million.

E-voting knocked a big hole in NSW's postal vote load, said Brightwell.

"Without iVote, the NSWEC would have had to do what AEC did this time. As soon as nominations closed and ballot papers are printed, they then send bundled votes and other material to consulates around the world. And those consulates would then act as polling places and send the completed votes and unused material back as soon as they could on the Friday before election day.

"Last state election, NSW did not send any paper votes overseas to consulates for the election," he said.

During state elections, polling places across the country used electronic devices (Android tablets) to determine where individuals are enrolled if they try to vote somewhere that's outside their enrolled division, said Brightwell.

"In the federal election, the polling places had no electronic look-up devices. If you turned up to a polling place and said, 'I want to vote' and you weren't on the paper roll in that polling place's division, a guessing game goes on. If you lose the guessing game, part or all of your vote gets rejected."


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