ACT election should pave way for e-voting nationwide

Ian Bushnell 4 October 2020 37
Touch voting station

The voting touch screen at the CMAG polling station in the city. Photo: Region Media.

I am going to do something today that I haven’t done before – vote early and cast my ballot electronically.

Usually a stickler for the polling day ritual, I am now a convert to the idea of spreading the vote out over the pre-poll period and using the touch screen technology to make my choices.

It’s safe, it makes sense and it’s secure.

And if most of us do likewise, we will know the result before the 7:00 pm news, even in a jurisdiction that uses the notoriously complicated Hare-Clark proportional representation system.

Electronic voting has been available in the ACT since 2004, but this time due to COVID-19 it will be available at multiple early voting centres across Canberra and for the first time an Australian election is likely to be decided this way.

Elections ACT, health authorities and Chief Minister Andrew Barr have all urged voters to vote early and the response so far signals that the vast majority of the electrorate will do so, and most will eschew pencil and paper for the secure e-card to make their selections at a console.

Voters scan the card, which has a barcode-like symbol on it, at the console, and then a large touchscreen displays the candidates’ names and parties.

They then use a touch screen to select candidates in their order of preference, and if they make a mistake, they can undo it or start over again.

When done, they scan their card once more to finalise their vote and lodge the card in a special ballot box.

It is not an online process connected to the Internet and can’t be hacked and subject to fraud.

Andrew Barr

Andrew Barr about to cast his e-card ballot for the 2020 ACT election. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

The implications are enormous and will change the way elections are fought, run and decided.

The front-loading of data and computer distribution of preferences will mean a fast, efficient count that will take the drama out of many an election night but should also mean fairer and less contentious contests.

The sight of scrutineers carefully patrolling the count and disputing ballot papers should be a thing of the past.

And it should make it less likely that ballots are miscounted or misread, and result in a more accurate count.

In a world where we regularly use ATMs and scan our own groceries at the supermarket, voting this way should be no more difficult.

Of course, the key factor in any voting system is the integrity of those running the election.

In this, Australia is blessed to have independent electoral commissions whose only duty is to the electorate, not governments or parties.

The contrast with the electoral mess in the world’s so-called greatest democracy could not be more striking.

Electronic voting is yet another feather in the ACT’s cap and will only reinforce a powerful democratic culture nurtured by compulsory voting, balanced electorates drawn by the electoral commissions and a general acceptance that voting should be easy and accessible for everyone.

It may take some time for it to become universally accepted across the nation but, short of a catastrophic computer crash or power blackout, the 2020 ACT election should mount a strong case to put the pencil away.

What's Your Opinion?

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37 Responses to ACT election should pave way for e-voting nationwide
Diana Marx Diana Marx 5:29 pm 08 Oct 20

I agree equaliser why is it compulsory to vote in this so called democratic country?

Qaiser Shahzad Qaiser Shahzad 2:19 pm 08 Oct 20

People should have an option to not vote if they dont want to vote

mark2604 mark2604 12:51 pm 07 Oct 20

“The sight of scrutineers carefully patrolling the count and disputing ballot papers should be a thing of the past.”

Scrutineering is an important part of the election process. It means the vote counting is transparent to the public.

Electronic voting has a lot of problems. just because it is modern dose not mean it is better.

Also yes, less paper is used, but E voting machines that have a single purpose and are only used every 4 years, create a lot of E-waste.

Tom Scott has a really good video on the problems that E-voting has here.

Unique ID Unique ID 12:41 pm 07 Oct 20

I was involved in the creation of the first version of this system. I think we did a pretty good job, and it’s a pretty good system as DRE systems go…. and I still don’t think it’s worth the risks it entails.

The problem is that it just can’t be adequately scrutinied. With paper, pretty much anyone can learn to scutiny any part of the system with a few hours of training, and most of the parties supplied a good number of people with such training. With the electronic system you can’t properly analyze the systems accuracy without a heap of specialized skills *and* access to the system’s source and specs.
The fundamental problem is that with paper, pretty much anyone can acquire the skills to

    Unique ID Unique ID 1:04 pm 07 Oct 20

    Followup with some responses to specific points:

    @Karen Feng: yes. less paper.why can’t we do it online?

    As well as all the basic problems of an electronic system, once online there’s no way to guard against coercion or vote buying. Using an electronic online system for cases that would already be postal votes isn’t a bad idea, expanding it outside that is not.

    @Mark Dawson: Although I did not test it, I assume it makes informal voting impossible

    I can’t speak for certain about the current version, but the original version did allow an informal vote (and was required to by the commission). However the only informal vote that was possible was a completely blank ballot, and it would warn you that you were about to submit an informal vote.

    @Jodi Gatfield: I can’t imagine what the sheer cost replicating this on a national scale would be (tens of thousands of laptops for mobile and remote polling and hundreds of thousands of screens and digital equipment in polling centres nationally). Jaw-dropping would be likely

    The cost of hardware can be significantly mitigated, because the normal approach is to either use hardware that’s been purchased anyway by the government and use it for the electrion before redploying to its final home, or to use existing government computer hardware that was about to be decommisioned. Nonetheless the cost is non-trivla, and is, I believe, one of the main reasons that the electronic voting was only a small slice of votes case in previous ACT elections.

    @Louise Flood: Without a doubt the easiest and I think most accurate election I have ever experienced.

    Easiest maybe, most accurate, well, how would you know? In general electronic voting is no more accurate than manual, only more precise (

Rodney Weber Rodney Weber 5:50 pm 06 Oct 20

e-voting is a great option. NSW state election has used it previously with no problems. Roll out the options :-)

Karen Feng Karen Feng 9:22 am 06 Oct 20

yes. less paper.why can't we do it online? we register online for postal.

then we received an envelop and a piece of paper 🌳🌳🌳

Geoff Roberts Geoff Roberts 9:40 pm 05 Oct 20

Totally agree. Come on Canberra.

steve2020 steve2020 8:30 pm 05 Oct 20

The issues that have occurred at polling locations in the past were computer illiterate people struggling with the voting process and elderly people not used to computers finding using the systems daunting and difficult. Some people may not be able to vote discreetly if they require assistance to go through the e-voting system. It can also result in misvoting.

Capital Retro Capital Retro 7:49 pm 05 Oct 20

No matter what they do to the process of recording the choices of the voter there is still no way of checking the voter’s identity. And when multiple votes are made, what does the AEC do?


Peter Veenstra Peter Veenstra 2:08 pm 05 Oct 20

There's even that new Green party.

Acton Acton 1:12 pm 05 Oct 20

If we have to have such a complicated voting system with its unacceptable delays in determining the result then it makes sense to change to electronic voting and counting.

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 12:26 pm 06 Oct 20

    Oh yeah? What happens if there is a glitch in which all data is lost or hacked ? No pieces of paper to count to re-check the result.

Jane Kim Jane Kim 12:06 pm 05 Oct 20

It was so easy to do, and I numbered all 29 squares. It's impossible to vote informal too, which can only be a good thing.

Mark Dawson Mark Dawson 11:26 am 05 Oct 20

It works really well. Although I did not test it, I assume it makes informal voting impossible - you cannot duplicate numbers against different candidates and I assume it won't allow you to finalise your vote unless you have selected 5 candidates.

Jay Kay Jay Kay 10:05 am 05 Oct 20

It isn't broke, don't fix it

Stephen Saunders Stephen Saunders 9:13 am 05 Oct 20

Thanks, Ian. You’ve encouraged me to do likewise. Sadly, this reform doesn’t meet the three necessary conditions to go national.

All our national “reforms” are (a) for the benefit of LibLab (b) owned by rent-seekers or lobbyists and (c) ignore whatever voters want.

Jodi Gatfield Jodi Gatfield 8:59 am 05 Oct 20

I can't imagine what the sheer cost replicating this on a national scale would be (tens of thousands of laptops for mobile and remote polling and hundreds of thousands of screens and digital equipment in polling centres nationally). Jaw-dropping would be likely ... and hard to justify in the current economic environment. Economies of scale makes a huge difference when federal elections are compared with the ACT elections.

    Leigh Brady Leigh Brady 10:18 am 05 Oct 20

    Exactly Jodi - we have a great system as it is... no need to spend eye watering amounts on limited benefits

    Pradeep Srnj Pradeep Srnj 10:41 am 05 Oct 20

    Leigh Brady May be the AEC could do a ROI on converting from paper to smart systems. When you factor the cost of printing (both $$$ and environment), labor cost (counting), time it takes to finalise some narrow margins, it may not be that different.

    Leigh Brady Leigh Brady 10:42 am 05 Oct 20

    Pradeep, i would say for sure they already have. We could probably could get results from JSCEM - I’m sure it’s been discussed and papers from experts such as Antony green etc would be there also. For sure it would have been discussed. They’d also need to completely change the legislation.

    Leigh Brady Leigh Brady 10:45 am 05 Oct 20

    I believe i saw something come out last fed election about how moving towards and electoral roll would be beneficial - and have way more impact for less cost (and presumably no change to legislation?). I’m trying to find the article for you but my Google fu is not great today.

    Pradeep Srnj Pradeep Srnj 10:52 am 05 Oct 20

    Leigh I will try and find some data. Thought quick Google search will provide some date but not really. With elections, federal is the hard bit. Most S&T elections happen at different times and the resources can be shared/moved as per need.

    Stephen Esdaile Stephen Esdaile 11:33 pm 05 Oct 20

    Jodi Gatfield I doubt it would cost that much. There are 14 pre-poll stations in the ACT. The one I voted at had about 15 tablets, so I'd guess that's probably less than 250 across the ACT. Maybe double that if you get rid of paper... If they cost $2000 each and you can use them for two electoral cycles, that would be about a million dollars per election. I'd be surprised if the paper option was much cheaper on once you factor in the print costs plus the human labour to scrutineer and count the votes ....

    Jodi Gatfield Jodi Gatfield 11:36 pm 05 Oct 20

    Stephen Esdaile my comment related to why electronic voting may not be something that is taken up happens nationally, not just in the ACT. I'm sure you can imagine less than 250 laptops for a population of less than 500,000 is a mere drop compared to a national population of almost 25 million.

    Stephen Esdaile Stephen Esdaile 11:40 pm 05 Oct 20

    The only places where it would get more expensive would be the huge, remote electorates. The efficiency in cities would actually increase. I'm pretty sure that nationally it would get even cheaper through volume buying power.

David Brown David Brown 8:57 am 05 Oct 20

I know who will get my first couple of votes but I like to start numbering with those I want in least, ie. from the bottom. With this system I am forced to start from 1 and go down the list. I will opt for a paper ballot.

    Robyne Mitchell Robyne Mitchell 10:09 am 05 Oct 20

    David Brown You only have to vote for 5 people. If the person you least like it is better not to put a number against their name.

    David Brown David Brown 2:40 pm 05 Oct 20

    Robyne Mitchell I know that but I want full value for my vote. I number every square. I only get to do it every four years after all.

Louise Flood Louise Flood 8:35 am 05 Oct 20

Without a doubt the easiest and I think most accurate election I have ever experienced. Time to change to this all over australia

    Ben Jones Ben Jones 10:52 am 05 Oct 20

    Louise Flood imagine the cost to do so though ....

Steve Ulr Steve Ulr 7:45 am 05 Oct 20

Why the AEC doesn’t run every election, and have standard electronic systems for each voting system is beyond me. Surely that would be more efficient?

    Jo Miles Jo Miles 8:06 am 05 Oct 20

    Steve Ulr oh stop with your common sense

    Julie Booth Julie Booth 8:18 am 05 Oct 20

    i pre voted and it's great and quick!!!!

    Colin Vivian Colin Vivian 8:32 am 05 Oct 20

    Steve Ulr I suspect the reason is pretty simple. LNP want a high informal vote as they think it advantages them and will never pass legislation to enable it.

    Leigh Brady Leigh Brady 10:16 am 05 Oct 20

    Steve - cost.

    Elections happen once every 3 or so years, and there are usually 7000-8000 booths across Australia. So you’re talking about buying a significant amount of hardware (which doesn’t last like a pencil) for a huge amount of polling places... or - reducing the number of polling places therefore actually making it harder for people to vote.

    Not to mention remote and rural booths and the roaming booths.

    And, you wouldn’t even reduce the number of people manning the booths much because they’re mostly managing queues and giving out voter cards or ballots.

    Why spend that money when we already have a fantastic system which returns results fairly quickly in comparison to other countries. Do we NEED to spend billions to find out a result several hours earlier?

    Andrew Wadey Andrew Wadey 11:28 am 07 Oct 20

    There's a lot of restrictions on the AEC for Federal elections, and new systems need trialling. Which is hard when smaller elections only happen every few years. The ACT is a good place for early trials due to size, next step would be somewhere like NSW/Vic and then Federal, but these things take time and I'd rather be stuck on paper a few extra elections and get it right than stuff a whole Federal election up!

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