The Department of Communications has floated the possibility of using the government's new controversial MyGov identification system for Australians to trial electronic voting.
The proposal was floated yesterday during a parliamentary inquiry into the 2013 election by Department of Communications deputy secretary Abul Rizvi as one possibility for an e-voting trial for the 2016 election.
In March, ZDNet reported that the department was advocating for a trial of electronic voting in the next federal election on the basis of the success of similar trials in the ACT and New South Wales, and yesterday Rizvi suggested that the MyGov login could be used for identification in any electronic voting trial.
"We consider this electronic credential may provide an ideal vehicle to trial e-voting at the federal level," he said.
"There are higher and higher levels of identity checking online that can be adopted, and indeed the MyGov online identity credential that the Department of Human Services has developed gives you scope to identify the level of veracity that you're prepared to accept in terms of online identity checking."
The MyGov so-called one-stop-shop for identity verification has faced criticism in the past few months after vulnerabilities were found in the website, including the ability for one researcher to hijack the accounts of registered MyGov users, according to a Fairfax report.
Rizvi said there would be risks associated with testing electronic voting, but these would have to be weighed up against the risks associated with the traditional paper-based voting method, which resulted in Western Australia having to go back to the polls earlier this year to re-vote the WA Senate election.
He said that the government holds much more valuable information than how governments are elected.
"There are systems governments hold that offer prizes far greater than manipulating an electoral system," he said.
"I guess I was comparing national security issues, and the question of how you can recover from an attack on an electoral system compared to a national security system."
Rizvi said that internet voting was the "inevitable long term outcome" for electronic voting, but in the meantime local voting with electronic devices was the best way forward. He said one way to reduce the cost of rolling out electronic voting to every polling booth around the country would be to find a way for voters to bring their own devices on polling day.
"So you are still voting physically at a physical voting place, but are voting using an electronic device that is connected to a local system using your own device that you've brought in," he said.
"I think that is a possibility that is worth examining. Yes, there are security issues you have to ask about, and the connection between your own device and the local voting system but those can be addressed, and that I would suggest reduces your costs quite considerably."
The decision on whether to conduct a trial would be decided by the committee before making recommendations to parliament, and Rizvi said a decision on a trial needed to be made quickly.
"A decision on the trial would need to be taken quickly if the trial is to operate for the next federal election."
Rizvi said no estimation on costs had been made yet, but a small trial with disabled voters, and then postal voters would be the most likely way forward, and then it could be expanded further provided it was successful.
Former special minister of state Gary Gray expressed concern that electronic voting, including the ability for a voter to change their vote once initially cast, was a big change for Australia.
"Some of the possibilities represent a very substantial change to culture and practice beyond the adoption of a technology. The ability to change a vote after you've cast it is a very substantial cultural change to our voting system," he said.
"As a former minister, I am deeply cautious to ensure our culture and practice is maintained."