AEC warns against e-voting trial before next election

AEC warns against e-voting trial before next election

Summary: The acting Australian Electoral Commissioner, Tom Rogers, today warned parliament against moving to introduce e-voting prior to the next federal election, saying that the AEC does not currently have the capabilities to safely carry out a trial.

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The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) does not have the internal capabilities to safely carry out an e-voting trial prior to the next federal election, according to the acting Electoral Commissioner, Tom Rogers.

Rogers, who spoke today at a parliamentary committee hearing investigating electoral matters, said that he was not confident the AEC could safely introduce electronic voting.

"I'm concerned about our ability to introduce some form of electronic voting, safely," he said. "We could introduce something, but we may end up back in a WA sort of situation if we're not careful, in a short space of time.

"I would be worried about any form large scale adoption before the next election, even a trial. We would not have the internal ability now to do that. We would have already had to have started that process," he said. "I'm concerned, as the acting commissioner, about whether I can tell you faithfully that we can implement a safe solution."

The hearing today, chaired by Tony Smith, was part of an inquiry into the AEC following the loss of electoral ballots in the 2013 Western Australia senate election. The AEC has since embarked on a number of major internal reforms.

Rogers said that, given the attention the AEC is currently giving to its internal reform process, it would be hard pushed at present to embark on establishing an e-voting system.

Additionally, Rogers said that even if the AEC did go ahead with an electronic voting platform, it would have to engage providers from the private sector.

"We certainly would need to work with industry; that is not a capability we have internally, and we'd have to evaluate a range of different solutions," he said.

While Rogers conceded that the AEC had had some former success with limited electronic voting systems for Australian Defence Force (ADF) employees overseas, and blind or visually impaired people in Australia, the costs of such existing systems would be prohibitive on a larger scale.

"We have had some experience with various e-voting trials — in 2007, for blind and low vision voters and for ADF personnel overseas. It was generally well received, but the per-vote cost was significant," he said.

However, Rogers also said that, if pressed by parliament to introduce electronic voting, the AEC would "make it happen".

"I think that anything's possible and if parliament asks us to conduct a trial or introduce some form of electronic voting, we're absolutely there, we'll pull out all stops and make it happen," he said.

Topics: Government AU, Australia

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Leon covers enterprise technology and start-ups from ZDNet's Sydney newsroom.

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