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Industry help would be sought by AEC for e-voting

by Michael Read •
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The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) has counseled a Parliamentary Committee against trialing an e-voting system prior to the next Federal election.

However, if formally asked by Parliament to conduct an e-voting trial, the AEC would do so, said Acting Electoral Commissioner Tom Rogers.

"If parliament asks us to conduct a trial, or introduce some form of electronic voting…we'll pull out all stops and make it happen", he said.

Any trial would have to be done with help from the private sector, said Rogers.

“We certainly would need to work with industry; that is not a capability we have internally, and we'd have to evaluate a range of different solutions.”

Rogers told the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters that the process for conducting any trial would have to have started by now.

“I would be worried about any form large scale adoption before the next election, even a trial. We would not have the internal capability now to do that. We would have already had to have started that process", he said.

“I'm concerned about our ability to introduce some form of electronic voting safely. We could introduce something, but we may end up back in a WA sort of situation if we're not careful - in a short space of time.”

The WA “situation” was a reference to the loss of 1,375 Senate ballot papers at the September 2013 Federal election, which sparked a special Half-Senate election and calls to move toward a more modern voting system.

"I'm concerned, as the Acting Commissioner, about whether I can tell you faithfully that we can implement a safe solution”, said Rogers.

The AEC has had some experience with electronic voting trials. In 2007, the agency conducted trials for blind and vision impaired voters and ADF personnel overseas. The trial was “generally well received” but the per-vote cost was “significant”, according to Rogers.

Electronic electoral rolls were used at the 2014 Griffith by-election. However, this came at a cost of $1400 per booth, rather than the $50 per booth cost of printed rolls. Despite the success of the trial – the number of people that voted more than once was reduced by 75% – Rogers said that the cost of a widespread trial of electronic voting roles is “absolutely prohibitive".

Rogers’ statement of caution comes just months after Spanish vendor Scytl was selected to provide electronic voting software for the 2015 NSW State Election.

NSW introduced an electronic voting system, known as iVote, at the 2011 State Election. Despite originally being designed for use by voters with vision impairment and other disabilities, Scytl will be tasked with upgrading the system so remote voters will be able to vote online.

It is expected the system will be made available for use by the wider community, if successful at the 2015 election.

The Victorian Government also trialled an e-voting system for disabled and vision impaired voters in the 2006 State Election and further expanded the system in 2010.

In the 2012 ACT Election, one in five voters used the Territory’s electronic voting system to cast a vote at one of the five approved electronic voting terminals.


Related Articles:

Finance to establish portfolio-wide IT panel

ICT and the WA Election

NSW chooses Scytl to deliver electronic voting solution

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