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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.

"Statistically, the rejected absent votes for the AEC using no electronic device is much higher than it is for the NSW Electoral Commission who have devices where every polling place can look people up who aren't within that electoral area. And that vastly improves the quality of the absent votes you take, while reducing the effort and stress on staff and electors in polling places."

This method also reveals people who are not enrolled, he said.

"At the state level in Victoria and NSW, they have an 'enrolment vote', which allows people with a valid driver's licence to both vote and enrol. Enrolment voting is not available federally."

Still a 'workman-like' job

Without an e-voting infrastructure, the AEC is doing a "workman-like job" and these problems are largely forced on them by legislation and funding, Brightwell told CIO.

Certainly, the AEC is now leading the way in security of ballot papers and procedures related to ballot handling, but the burden of these procedures largely fall to the polling officers in charge.

"The current paper system is not broken but it is certainly strained and can't keep going the way it is now because it squeezes people on the ground in polling places too hard."

"My general feeling is that everyone in government wanted the [Australian] Electoral Commission to shine [during this election]," he said.

"They would have come out better if it had not been for the fact that we had a potential hung parliament and government could not be reliably determined on election night. And because of that, the focus turned to the AEC and why it appeared to be slow."

A quicker result with e-voting?

Brightwell doesn't advocate e-voting across the board just yet. Rather, it needs to be done progressively and rolled out across voting channels which are difficult to manage.

"The original reason for iVote was [to help] blind, low vision, and disabled [people] who obviously need access," Brightwell said.

"The next group are interstate and overseas voters where you put a lot of effort in to get very few votes and quite frankly, some of them fail because they come back late.

"And finally postal voting. We knew that the post is failing and we need an alternative - it can be up to 10 per cent of the votes cast and you need to have an alternative for that. You can't say to 10 per cent of people, 'you can't vote.'

"It comes with risk but there aren't really any viable alternatives and if we are going to go into it, we need to do it well with the proper scrutiny," he said.

Meanwhile, pre-polls are also taking a huge number of votes and having computers at these locations would be helpful, he said.


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