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Next NSW iVote provider wanted

by Se Eun Lee •
Free resource

A refresh of the New South Wales Electoral Commission’s (NSWEC) core voting system software is imminent, with new data centre hosting arrangements for iVote also on the horizon.

According to a Request for Tender (RFT) released on 1 December, the NSWEC is seeking to “engage a suitably qualified vendor to refresh the iVote System’s remote electronic voting software”, with deliverables including “acquisition, customisation, development, implementation and support of the remote electronic software”.

The 2017-18 state budget allocated the NSWEC $5.4 million to revamp its iVote system before the 2019 state election.

The iVote System was first developed in 2010 following an amendment to the Parliamentary Electorates and Elections Act 1912 to enable the use of ‘technology assisted voting’. It had since been deployed in the 2011 and 2015 NSW state general elections and nine state by-elections to enable voters with disabilities or without access to a polling place to vote via telephone or internet. The iVote software was also piloted in Western Australia for the March 2017 state general election.

Following an industry engagement process in July 2017 and a Request for Information (RFI) in September, NSWEC published an Initiation Brief in November “to provide an insight into the NSWEC’s current high-level thinking about elements of the iVote Refresh Project”.

“While the current iVote system has successfully delivered a number of NSW election events, the NSWEC is seeking to procure an enhanced version for use at the 2019 NSW State General Election,” the brief stated.

Key enhancements sought include: improved protocols for verifying voters; a platform-wide cyber security update; and enhanced functionalities, user experience and public awareness of the system.

The current iVote process comprises of three steps, each with corresponding system components:

  • Register: Registration System and the Credential Management System, software developed by the NSWEC;
  • Vote: Core Voting System, a commercial off-the-shelf software procured from Spanish company Scytl, under a 5-year $1.8 million contract; and
  • Verify: Verification System, a telephone confirmation service internally developed by the NSWEC.

According to the tender documents, the agency is primarily interested in replacing Scytl’s Core Voting System, which “allows for decryption and counting” of votes “whilst maintaining voter anonymity” through digital signature encryption and security 'checks and balances'.

Some alternatives to Scytl noted by the NSWEC in the Initiation Brief include US-based Everyone Counts Inc., who provided the system used for the 2011 NSW state general election; and UK-based Smartmatic, which provides e-voting software for Estonia. The three suppliers were also the shortlisted entities in the multi-stage tendering process that awarded Scytl the Core Voting System contract.

The NSWEC plans to maintain the Register components in-house and separate from the voting system “to reduce the risk of a single security breach impacting vote secrecy or vote integrity”. However, it remains “open to innovative proposals from potential suppliers of the Vote component in regards to Verify”, for which an open procurement process in 2014 failed to deliver a viable supplier, according to the June 2017 iVote procurement strategy.

The three components are also hosted in three different data centres. The Registration and Credential Management Systems are hosted in the NSWEC data centres, and are being transferred to the NSW GovDC facilities, which were recently expanded to meet increasing demand.

The Core Voting Systems is being hosted by Secure Logic in the NSW GovDC data centres under a 5-year contract worth $990,000. The Verification System is being hosted privately by AC3 in their data centres under a 5-year contract worth $224,000.

The iVote procurement strategy states that to maintain the separation of Register and Vote components, “new hosting locations will be required for the Core voting system and this will result in an open procurement for such services”. It further indicated that it may consider “separate hosting of the Verification System, to obtain the best value for NSW” following the tender process.

An industry briefing is scheduled on 12 December, and the tender closes on 22 January 2018.

Electronic voting systems are being considered in other Australian jurisdictions. An Inquiry Report into the Electoral Commission Queensland’s (ECQ’s) performance of conducting the 2016 local elections, tabled in Queensland Parliament in March 2017, recommended that ECQ introduce e-voting by the 2020 election at some pre-polling and polling booths. In response, the Queensland government noted that “ECQ supports this recommendation and that the ECQ will consider this recommendation during ECQ’s planning for the next local government election.”

In early November, the Northern Territory government issued an Electoral Reform Discussion Paper aimed at making the voting process fairer, more transparent and more convenient, including a breakdown of the technology options that streamline the voting process.

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