Next time, let's vote online

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.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

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.

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