The Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA), the nation’s peak body for the technology industry, has called for electronic voting in Australia. If the system were already in place, we would already know the outcome of Saturday’s Federal election. Actually we’d know the results the instant the voting window closed.
So far, almost 1.1m postal votes have been returned to the AEC, of which counting starts today, which follows two days of packaging, distribution, sorting and verification of these votes. This means Australia is without a Government as it waits for international and interstate votes to be couriered to their destination. In 2016, we can do better than this and if we start this now, maybe by the time we vote in 3 years from now, we’d have a electronic voting system in Australia.
Electronic voting would allow Australians to vote from home on the laptop or PC, while out and about on their mobile phone or tablet and computer stations at a reduced number of polling booths.
Rob Fitzpatrick, CEO of the AIIA says,
“The process today is extraordinarily inefficient and expensive. With electronic voting in place, we would have known the results of our election minutes after the polls closed on Saturday, and everyone could get on with their jobs. And the election itself would have cost a lot less money to run.”
The cost of the Federal election in 2013 was $193 million and the 2010 Federal election cost $160 million to run.
Fitzpatrick went on to say,
“Money invested in a universal electronic voting system would return savings very quickly”
When we look forward to the future where before the end of this year, we may be spending another $160 Million on a marriage equality plebiscite, it’s easy to see how that’s absolutely true. If Australia does develop the technology to successfully implement this, there’s plenty of other countries also trying to solve the same problem, so its possible we could license the technology to other nations.
In addition to time and cost savings, electronic voting could increase the integrity and security of the voting process. Securing the system is obviously paramount given the successful parties control billions of dollars, so an electronic voting system would have to use world-class security as the motivation to compromise the system is incredibly high.
There are other examples we can look to for confirmation that online transactions can be done securely. The most obvious is online banking which millions of Australians already do. Yes there is financial transactions that are compromised, but that vulnerability doesn’t come from insecurities in online portals, but most often the most common attack vector is the insecure transactions of a physical card (especially mag stripe) that you carry around and potentially loose, or transact with unknown individuals and businesses. This is how cards get skimmed or money gets stolen, not through secure online transactions.
Another great example is MyGov where you can securely authenticate and submit your official tax return. This also lets you configure and manage your dealings with Medicare and access your eHealth record. This verification that you are who you say you are, is far in excess of the experience we faced at the polling booths on the weekend.
The extent of security at a polling booth was a verbal confirmation, what’s your name, what’s your address. The third question was a completely unverified verbal question of ‘have you voted already?’ In which you could, and some do, lie about, then venture to another polling booth and vote again. With a secure online voting platform that actually verified you as a person, you would only be able to vote once.
With an electronic voting form, it could also help with the growing ridiculousness that is the length of the senate voting ballot. So long it doesn’t fit in the voting booth, but online could be presented on a single screen. Another advantage would be the removal of the static order of politicians on the ballot. It is estimated as much as 1% of votes could be achieved by a candidate that draws the first position on the ballot. With electronic voting, robust randomization algorithms could be implemented to ensure no candidate benefits from the placement of their name on the ballot.
This election, there will be more informal votes than ever before, possible due to voter frustration with our current breed of politicians and a dislike for their policies. In a country that mandates compulsory voting, these informal votes really need to be addressed. It would be possible to only allow a voter to submit their vote if they number the minimum amount of boxes required and of course it would end the complimentary artworks some add to their ballot submission.
Fitzpatrick also said,
“With today’s archaic system, votes can be miscounted, misread, or even simply misplaced, as they were in the 2013 Western Australia Senate election,”
Australia has made some in-roads into electronic voting. Electronically Assisted Voting (EAV) has been available at voting centres in Victorian state elections since 2006. In New South Wales state elections, a remote electronic voting system known as iVote was introduced in 2011 and is available to electors who are blind, have reading difficulties or other disabilities, live more than 20km from a polling booth, or will be interstate or overseas on election day. In the 2015 NSW elections, iVote received 283,669 votes, making it the biggest politically binding on-line election to date.
“New South Wales and Victoria have shown us that electronic voting can work. It’s now time to take what they’ve learned and apply it on a larger scale throughout Australia”
“All Brazilian elections have been fully electronic since 2000, and countries like India and Estonia have electronic voting on a large scale, so we know it can be done.”
Digital transformation of government is one of the AIIA’s top four priorities for the next Federal government as it looks at ways Australia can transform into a digital economy in order to be globally competitive. The other priorities are transforming Australia’s talent and skills base, business adoption of digital technology, and fast rollout of the NBN and 5G.
For those who are concerned about the implications for #democracysausage, we’re a country with a lot of smart people, there will be a solution to this. Fancy a drone delivered snag in bread ?