Electronic voting recommended for NSW state and local elections

A major expansion of electronic voting through the iVote system would help improve voter turnout for local council and state elections, according to a New South Wales parliamentary committee.

The New South Wales Joint Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Matters has recommended that the New South Wales electronic voting system iVote, be expanded in time to allow all voters to choose to vote electronically by the 2016 council election, and all subsequent state elections.

The iVote system was implemented ahead of the 2011 state election for vision-impaired voters, and those living in rural areas that have difficulty in reaching polling places. Voters are provided a 6-digit PIN in one letter, and an 8-digit iVote number separately via email, SMS, or phone, to enable access to the iVote system.

The votes are stored in central servers in two datacentres and printed at the close of polls for manual counting. Take-up in 2011 was much higher than the 10,000 expected, with 46,864 voters using the iVote system. Approximately 94 percent of those who used the iVote system were reported to have been satisfied with it.

In a report handed down earlier this week, the committee said that voter turnout is consistently lower for local elections than state and federal elections, and the 2012 local elections saw the percentage of voters turning out drop from 83.4 percent in 2008 to 82.1 percent, despite voting in local elections being compulsory. The City of Sydney had the second highest non-participation rate with 25.5 percent of the electorate not voting in 2012.

The committee said that to improve voter turnout, the New South Wales government should expand the iVote system to all voters in the 2016 election, and then all subsequent state elections.

"The committee considers it sensible, appropriate and timely that the government enable all electors the ability to cast a technology‐assisted ballot, through an iVote, for the 2016 local government elections," the committee said.

"Allowing for universal iVote to work in tandem with postal voting will give many electors an alternative to vote by using their preferred method. In enabling these options, voter participation in the electoral process is likely to increase through greater accessibility to voting."

Ahead of the expected concerns raised over the potential for votes to be compromised through hacking or manipulation of the software, the committee recommended that there be an independent review of the iVote software prior to the next election.

The New South Wales government has yet to respond to the committee's report, but must provide a response by September 27.

The timing of the implementation of the proposed expansion of the iVote system would mean it would not be ready in time for the 2015 NSW state election.

Late last year, the New South Wales Electoral Commission went to tender to develop the interface for the iVote system, including the potential development of iOS and Android apps for the iVote system.

The Department of Communications this month has recommended the federal government consider its own trial of electronic voting for the 2016 federal election.