Next time, let's vote online

Next time, let's vote online

Summary: If the three country independent MPs can't choose whether they'll side with Labor or Liberal this week and we have to go back to the polls, let's do it online.

TOPICS: Government AU

If the three rural independents finally reach a decision about whether they will support a Labor or Coalition minority government for the next three years, the vast majority of Australians will breathe a sigh of relief at not having to go to the polls again. But this wouldn't be such an effort if we could simply vote online.


(Polling station image by The Proper Gandhi, CC2.0)

While I'm sure quite a few of us enjoyed the novelty of walking to our local school or church, picking up some lamingtons or a sausage sandwich along the way before performing our democratic duty, the mere thought of having to go through all that again in the near future is just exhausting.

As part of Gen Y, I grew up in a world where I could do all my shopping and banking online. Why should I still have to spend an hour lining up to vote in a small cardboard box with paper and a pencil?

For starters, the Commonwealth Electoral Act would have to be changed to allow citizens to vote online, but if the High Court victory by political action group GetUp! just prior to the election allowing people to register to vote online is anything to go by, it's a possibility.

Stilgherrian pointed out in Patch Monday that the pencil and paper voting system is tried, tested and true and is not as susceptible to voting fraud as a digital system would be, because every paper-based vote is easily accountable by the average person.

Sure, I can account for my own vote, but mine is one of millions, and once my vote is dropped into that voting box, it's in the hands of the various AEC counting officials. I'm not suggesting that the AEC officials aren't anything but true professionals, but there's no way for me to verify that my vote was counted exactly the way I voted. You just have to look at how long it took to for independent MP Andrew Wilkie to have his seat secured over his Labor rival to show that the current voting system, including factors such as two-party preferences, is far from simple to the average punter.

It's true that any digital voting system could potentially be manipulated by the engineers designing it, or could be susceptible to hacking and no one would be any the wiser. I would expect, however, that any voting system would be no less secure than the ATO's eTax system that I use to do my taxes, or Medicare's website, or the banking website I use to pay my bills.

If there are concerns that this might disadvantage those who don't want to vote online, or that the AEC servers wouldn't be able to handle such a high volume of online voters, online voting should by no means be the only way to vote. There's no stopping those regular voting centres from still being open; just equip the people who mark you off the roll with a computer hooked up to an AEC database to ensure people don't vote twice.

Online voting might also see a significant drop in party preferencing votes. It's much easier and much less time-consuming to fill out 84 boxes in an online voting form than it is to use a blunt pencil to fill out a piece of paper that is second only to War and Peace in length.

The only clear thing I can see standing in our way is the technology. But with the NSW Electoral Commission already moving to implement an online voting system for vision-impaired voters, surely this system can be extended to cover everybody.

Topic: Government AU


Armed with a degree in Computer Science and a Masters in Journalism, Josh keeps a close eye on the telecommunications industry, the National Broadband Network, and all the goings on in government IT.

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  • Unfortunately Josh, the problem here is that there is no way to track vote rigging if its done online.

    The experience from the US elections in 2000 proved that voting machines can be easily tampered with, and the number of people who get caught in phishing scams should tell you just how rampant vote rigging would be in an online election. Ask the banks why they wont disclose figures on electronic fraud, because its rampant.

    The sheer laziness of your post surprises me a little, especially knowing how passionate you are about politics. If it takes a couple of weeks to truly ascertain the future of our country, then so be it.

    Just because you can make noodles in two minutes, doesn't mean they are good to eat. Patience is a virtue my young Padawan.
  • Estonia seems to be doing okay. Like I said, it's not a be all and end all method but it should be considered as a serious option.

    And there's no proving that how a person voted in the election actually was counted that way, currently. We're putting most of the trust in the AEC, rightly or wrongly. I don't see how anything would change.

    But maybe I'm too trusting of government agencies. :)
    Josh Taylor
  • There have been many attempts at online voting, and all of them have failed. Some reasons it is a Bad Idea:

    1. Not everybody is "Gen Y". I want my mother to be able to vote.

    2. Not everybody is online, even among Gen Y. I want EVERYBODY to be able to vote, including a 19-year-old living at a camp in outback NT.

    3. It is fundamental to democracy that election processes be clear, open and understandable to everyone. Online voting is a black box, and anybody not involved in its development must take the word of those that were that the black box works as described. This is Not Good.
  • How are we not taking the AEC at their word now that my vote is being counted exactly the way I cast it? There's audit trails, yes but no clear indication available for the average punter.

    And as I mentioned, I don't think there should *only* be online voting. Estonia has non-compulsory online voting available (and also an ID card for verification but that's another privacy issue entirely). People who don't have access to the internet or don't want to go online to vote will can still go do it the old fashioned way.
    Josh Taylor
  • I agree completely with Josh, it is time for online voting. Vote online if you wish, or go to your local school/church to vote. It's up to you.
    Everyone could be issued over the mail with a user/password to a web-site that let's you vote. The local school should have a computer to track names of people who have voted (not a thick bounded book).

    Ah, voting twice? I can go in 2 local voting centres today and vote twice. Yeah I will get caught and fined. Same thing for online.

    Voting with a pencil? hmmm, maybe the person counting my votes has a rubber and another pencil to change my vote before counting it !!!
  • Every candidate has the right to have scrutineers of their choice scruntinise the vote counting. Srutineers can see the ballot papers and can observe the counting process. With electronic voting, what would a scrutineer do? Watch an official press a button?

    Non-compulsory online voting means that some votes are harder to scrutinise. In Estonia it was a tiny amount (fewer than 20,000 people in the entire country), but then this raises two possible outcomes:

    1) The number of votes cast online grows, in which case you the scrutiny problem grows, or

    2) The number of votes case online stays low, in which case it's not a successful project (minimal uptake).
  • It's a nice idea where voting is not compulsory (like in the U.S.) where the easier you make it, the more people will do it. But here in Australia, where voting is compulsory, there's just no incentive for the AEC to make it "easy" for people.

    There's also the question of how do you make the vote anonymous, but at the same time record the fact that *I* have voted. In the paper-and-pencil system, you record your name in the book, THEN put your ballot paper in the box (with hundreds of others): you've established the fact that you've voted without actually discloing WHO you voted for. How can you do that with an online system?
    Dean Harding
  • Given that no one bothers to check ID when you report at a voting center, there is no reason why you can't present yourself at multiple voting centers using other people's names.

    The only way that electronic voting will work is **two competing proprietary systems** both of which give the voter a print-out of their votes as recorded by the system.

    Even the current pencil on paper system has been blatantly cheated in the past with felt pen written over the pencil without regard to the pencil still being legible.
  • The existing system has been rorted for years,

    I have been haned Ballot Papers unsigned by the issuer, after crossing your name off the role, (informal vote), also pencils which barely make a mark on the paper, unless you press hard enough to tear the paper ( informal)
    I now double check the issuer, use my biro, and then place it into the box hoping that it actually gets counted.
    I also fully number all Senate papers to ensure my vote goes where i want, after contacting all of those parties on the nominations to see where they are sending their preferences .