This weekend, Saturday, 21st May 2022, Australians will return to the polls to vote in the latest Federal Election. While some are voting early in postal votes, millions of Australians will be required to visit a polling booth on Saturday to cast their vote.
In 2022, we can submit our taxes online, we do our banking online, we trade crypto, we order parcels online and yet, we are still not able to vote online.
When the topic of online voting is raised, many immediately point to potential security risks as to why we can’t move to a modern, far more convenient and expedient way of voting in a new Government.
Tonight, The West Australian is reporting that the AEC will allow votes to be cast by phone, which has to be the least secure technique to register a vote. Even votes cast in person are not electronically validated that you haven’t already voted elsewhere that day, simply verbal question is asked, then your name is marked off the list, and no, ID is not required to be shown. This is wild in an era of digital identity verification like GovID into services.
With that, let’s put to bed this automatic assumption that online voting is less secure than what we have today.
At the time of writing, the number of Active cases (estimated) is 372,452. That number would include people under 18 that are not eligible to vote, but you can see this is not an insignificant number we’re talking about.
I recently replied to the AEC on Twitter, explaining that I wish we could get online voting in place sometime before 2030, to which @AusElectoralCom replied with this.
When you consider everything that takes place on voting day (and the weeks and months leading up to it), many people would be impacted by a move to a new technology.
The latest figures we have is that as of 30 June 2020 the AEC had a regular workforce of 711 employees, and a casual workforce of 1,110 people, taking the total workforce at AEC to a massive 1,821 people to administer elections.
There’s also other waste going on, like the legacy process in each of the 151 electorates for determining the order in which candidates appear on the ballot paper. It is unbelievable that in 2022, when we have random number generators that could do this process in a millisecond, the AEC is gathering people in a room and drawing balls out of a bingo spinner like it’s 1982.
Not only could taxpayers make substantial savings every 3 years when the federal elections are run, the costs associated with designing, printing, distributing, collecting and counting the voting papers could be avoided.
Naturally, an online voting system does need to be secured as the consequences of having interference could change the results of the election. As difficult as the task of creating a secure voting system may be, it can’t be beyond the incredibly talented information technology skillset we have in this country.
Like most Government software projects, I’m sure the investment in developing it wouldn’t be cheap, which is why it should be a voting system for all levels of Government, Federal, State and Local to increase the return on investment. Once the system is constructed with an initial funding round, there would need to be maintenance, but the cost of doing so, would be a dramatic saving on what we’re spending on the AEC today.
One option would be to open-source the software and let the world of developers bang on it to find flaws before its implemented. Another option is to develop this secure voting software that Australia could sell to the world and help not only pay back the development cost, but potentially turn it into a profit center for the country, charging a monthly or annual license to use it.
In 2020/2021, the AEC’s total departmental expenditure was $187.6 million, surely somewhere within that budget we could fund the development of online voting. For the benefit it would derive, it’d be worth investing even more in the short term, to deliver long-term outcomes for the country.
Think of the people with mobility issues that have to go out of their way to get to the voting booth at their local school or the people with immune-compromised systems that are asked to go stand in a line with a lot of other people. Ther is a better way and in 2022, I wished we were already voting online.
Whoever wins this year, it should be something they commit to working towards in the next 3 years of Government.