Election Universe

Will the Australian voting system go online?

Will the Australian voting system go online?
August 07 2014, 16:10

Image courtesy of  Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

According to an article in Australia’s Business Spectator, Australia’s Department of Communications has told a parliamentary group, The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, that ‘it was inevitable Australia would embrace online voting’

A spokesperson from the department told the committee how electors could one day vote on their own devices at polling locations – and that this might also help reduce costs. He called for a trial at the next elections.

46,000 voters used an electronic system, iVote, to cast their ballot in the last New South Wales elections. That number is thought to rise to 250,000 in the next.

In spite of the progress made, both the department and the committee recognized there could be risks surrounding security, privacy, identity and coercion.

The online risk?

Antonio Mugica, CEO for Smartmatic, the worldwide leader in election automation, recently noted in an interview with EurActiv titled Online voting will boom in the years to come, that there are still challenges with proving people’s identities online and that it’s a general challenge shared by almost every transactional website.

Mugica points out that online voting is a natural progression for absentee voters, overseas military personnel and postal voters – and reminds us that online voting is just one option. Voters should be given others.

According to Mugica, voters aren’t the only people who benefit from online voting. Electoral commissions can also run more cost-effective and greener elections. But those are topics for future blogs posts.

Learning from Estonia

One possible route to implement online voting could be learning from the Estonian experience. Estonia is the only country to have successfully carried binding Internet voting in the world. During the last decade, it has held seven national elections in which voters have the option to cast a ballot in a local precinct, or to vote online. In the last election over 30% of people chose the latter.

That’s why Mugica has chosen to partner with Cybernetica, the R&D lab that built the original Internet voting system used in Estonia, in the Centre for Excellence for Internet Voting to develop this successful experience further.

About the Australian voting system

The Australian electoral system has evolved over 150 years of democratic government. But it’s complex. The present day federal government has several distinctive features, including compulsory voting.

And the lower house, the House of Representatives, and the upper house, the Senate, are elected in two different ways. You can read more about this on the Wikipedia entry for the Australian electoral system

According to an article in the UK’s Guardian newspaper, entitled ‘How does Australia’s voting system work?’, the country has a complex system that combines elements of proportional and consistency systems.

So how can online voting help Australia?

Actually, any kind of electronic voting is bound to help voters using a complex electoral system, whether you’re talking about online or with touchscreen voting machines.

Because electronic ballots are interactive, you can take electors through their choices step by step and offer clear instructions. Electronic ballots also reduce the number of spoiled ballots. You can mark a paper ballot incorrectly and place it in a ballot box. There’s no equivalent with electronic voting, however. You’re removing human error.

Voters follow clear instructions, make their choices then confirm them. And with elections around the world consistently delivering results where the winner is decided by handfuls of percentage points, it’s more important than ever electoral commissions ensure every vote is counted – and counted correctly.

It’s interesting to note that in Australia’s last federal elections (in 2013) it was determined there were 1,375 missing ballot papers in the Senate recount, which resulted in another election having to be held in 2014. This is obviously a serious problem that electronic voting would solve.