Electronic voting will eventually replace postal ballots: NSWEC CIO

NSW Electoral Commission CIO Ian Brightwell has hinted that the agency is looking to move postal voting completely onto its electronic voting platform.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor

The NSW Electoral Commission (NSWEC) is looking to replace postal votes, and believes the solution is the iVote platform.

NSW Electoral Commission CIO Ian Brightwell outlined during recent state elections 283,000 people relied on iVote to cast their votes, many of whom were living overseas or were travelling interstate.

"They were using it because postal voting isn't working anymore," he said, speaking at the Technology in Government Summit in Canberra on Wednesday.

"As you know Australia Post is having a few problems...and they're going to be struggling in the future and we don't know where they're going, but we believe in an election or two, postal is not really going to be an option for us."

Brightwell added there is a "level of integrity" when it comes to electronic voting because of the "controls and checks".

"If you think about paper voting, you just simply trust us. The scrutiny in the polling place is not that high when you look at the overall voting process, whereas you can get stronger evidence of voting integrity when using electronic voting. When you combine the two, you actually get a much clearer picture because to fraud both systems would be very, very difficult," he said.

He went on to say that relying on two large warehouses of 500 contractors to manually count the paper ballots is not often always the best method.

"The reality is we don't count every vote; we try to count every vote but we can't because we can't guarantee everyone is going to work like a machine. So what we get in the end is an approximation, and we hope that it's a good approximation of what the actual outcome is, but that's the best we can get.

"Electronic voting gives you another cross check."

However, Brightwell reassured iVote will not completely replace the paper ballot system, at least not in the next 10 years, saying that if it ever grew, he'd only like to see it make up no more than 15 percent of all votes. Currently, 5 percent of all votes are conducted through iVote.

"I think [iVote] has a place in the voting world simply because it's a complimentary service to paper voting. I wouldn't want to see it becoming dominant," he said.

During the March elections, the NSWEC was left scrambling patching security flaws, including FREAK, in the electronic voting system, according to security researchers at the time. However, the agency hit back saying that the vulnerabilities in iVote were "overstated".

"The proposed FREAK attack requires a high level of technical expertise and a number of pre-conditions to be successful, and as such is not considered a real threat to iVote. We have been advised that the likelihood of someone intercepting votes online using this approach is as real as a malicious postman replacing a postal vote," it said at the time.

Earlier this year, Brightwell further defended the system following a glitch, which saw two groups on the ballot paper presented without an above-the-line voting square. He pinned the blame on human error.

"There was no fault on the computer systems per se; it was a human error in data entry," Brightwell told ZDNet at the time. "Unfortunately, at the time of going live, we didn't have an opportunity to view the ballot paper.

"[But] this particular problem is a human error in data entry. To wrap it up as an iVote error is a little bit misleading."

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