Is electronic voting our future?
By Emma Crameri
While working at the recent Federal election, I wondered why Australia hadn’t moved to electronic voting. I spent a long day directing people to the right place, and the evening was spent leaning over a table sorting and counting paper ballot papers.
I discovered that mostly people just wanted to get in and get out. A couple of people openly grumbled about having to vote – a few even wrote down how they felt on the voting papers.
Tech My Voting
After my firsthand experience, I wondered if technology could help to make the democratic process run more smoothly and efficiently. There are several different ways technology could be used to improve the voting process.
Voters could be checked and marked off on electronic electoral rolls on iPads or laptops – this would ensure that voters who try to vote more than once are blocked (a rumoured issue with the current system). Polling booths could contain tablets or kiosk voting so that the hardware and software environments are controlled.
Alternatively, votes could be lodged online remotely using any device – although this provides little control over the environment in which the vote was cast. Votes could be lodged using a free downloadable app or by SMS text.
Alternative ways to vote include via your interactive digital television (iDTV) or touch screen terminals, or by using touch-tone telephony (IVR).
Another option to consider is the process of counting the papers could be conducted by electronic scanners (using Optical Character Recognition (OCR).
The most popular solution seems to be to move to electronic voting. It promises benefits like speed and convenience but raises concerns over privacy and cost.
I dug up some of the research and read about other countries’ experiences.
Here are some of the pros and cons that I discovered:
Pros of electronic voting
- Voting online can provide instant feedback if you have numbered the boxes correctly and this could potentially lead to fewer invalid votes
- Online voting could potentially prevent people from voting twice or more times (as rumoured that it’s possible with the paper system).
- People can vote from home – any time that suits them within a specified time period.
- There is less error in vote counting
- 95% of the waste created on election day was paper waste – from the party how to vote handouts, to the ballot papers, to the address booklets. Moving to an online system may help to minimise this waste.
- Allows Australian citizens living in the United Kingdom to vote online without the need to send approximately 18 tonnes of voting material to Britain in Federal elections
- Prevents people submitting additional fake photocopied ballot papers
- Electronic voting is ideal for provision of a secret ballot for blind and low-vision voters.
- Enables the result of the election to be decided more quickly
Cons of electronic voting
- The major concern of electronic voting is balancing people’s privacy. Some people have raised concerns about voting anonymously while using an internet café, at work, or in a public library if they don’t have internet access at home.
- The system has the potential for being hacked.
- Voters at home may not raise questions like asking for help in voting correctly. They may be less likely to request updates to the polling records, if they discover they can use their old surname or old address (rather than changing and updating it).
- Server capability needs to be tested thoroughly – to ensure that the system can cope with an influx of voting during peak times.
- Electronic voting may not be an accessible option for everyone. It will be difficult for people who might not have access to the internet, computer or smart phone. These accessibility issues will need to be addressed with alternative methods of voting.
- The costs to implement, test and educate the public are significant.
In the US state of Alabama, participation in voting among troops from the state stationed overseas increased by more than 70% when they were able to vote online in 2016.
As an American election expert says “‘when it comes to voting, folks would rather be online than in line.’
Recent Uses of Electronic Voting
The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) has successfully piloted using electronically certified lists (ECLs) so that voters can be marked off more accurately and in real-time. It also scans Senate ballot papers.
Since 2011, NSW has used an iVote system to allow remote voting over the Internet or by telephone at its state elections. It currently uses a combination of iVote, postal voting and in person voting at dedicated centres on election day.
The ACT has used electronic kiosks for pre-polling since 2001. These looks like normal cardboard voting booths, but they have a computer screen mounted in them with a small keypad and a barcode reader.
Coles Myer and NRMA have successfully used online voting systems for their shareholders to increase participation.
Several countries have successfully introduced electronic voting, like Estonia and Brazil. Switzerland uses an online voting platform for Swiss canton elections. This system uses technology to randomise the order of the votes to ensure they can’t be connected to individual voters. The USA has used electronic voting machines in many states.
Research about Electronic Voting
Unfortunately, Australian research reports about electronic voting has been largely focused on the negative aspects and risks of using technology. In 2013, the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) explored internet voting and the cyber security experts recommended against it. In 2017, the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters found "a number of serious problems" with electronic voting. The major barriers cited included the cost, security and verification of results.
I’d love to see Queensland trial these technologies at the next elections and roll them out across the state over the next ten years.
What do you think – would you like to vote electronically in your next election?
- Bismark, David. E-voting without fraud, TEDGlobal 2010, YouTube
- Electoral Council of Australia and New Zealand, Internet voting in Australian election systems (10 Sept 2013). Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, Second interim report on the inquiry into the conduct of the 2013 federal election: An assessment of electronic voting options. November 2014. Canberra.
- NSW Electoral Commission, iVote
- Smith R. 2002. Electronic voting: benefits and risks. Trends & issues in crime and criminal justice No. 224. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology.
- Survey shows strong support for alternate voting method, ABC News online. Retrieved 28 May 2019.
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