21 October 2020

E-voting success points way to future of elections

| Ian Bushnell
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The touch screen interface made voting very easy. Photo: File.

On election night it was more of a deluge than a trickle when Elections ACT began crunching the numbers, and it was all over by 8:00 pm.

Fast, efficient and clean, it was a challenge to keep pace with the tumbling numbers but it was an election night like no other and we may have seen the future of elections generally.

Initial feedback from Elections ACT is that the poll overall, with its unprecedented three weeks of early voting, went exceptionally well, with the vast majority of the electorate voting early and up to 70 per cent electronically.

In 2016, only 33 per cent voted pre-poll, and this time more than double voted electronically.

As well as the extended early voting due to COVID-19, a big difference was the easier-to-use touch screen interface and card, instead of the keypad used in 2016.

”[In 2016] some people were already au fait with smartphones and it felt a bit old,” an Elections ACT spokesperson said.

“The vast majority of anecdotal feedback from polling officials who were talking to voters was that it was incredibly smooth and people enjoyed it.

”We even had a couple in their late 90s at one voting centre who absolutely wanted to vote electronically, did it without assistance and thought it was great.”

But e-voting faces hurdles for it to be extended to federal elections, requiring legislation and a way to cope with the size of the Senate ballot paper.

The other issue is the sheer number of machines that would be needed.

The spokesperson said the federal joint standing committee on electoral matters looked at e-voting three or four years ago but said no, not yet.

He said the Senate paper, particularly in NSW where there can be more than 100 candidates, could be incredibly long, up to a metre, whereas the ACT Legislative Assembly election ballot paper could fit on one screen.

Andrew Barr voting

Chief Minister Andrew Barr led the way, voting early and electronically for the 2020 ACT election. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Elections ACT deployed about 300 voting machines across selected polling places.

”If the AEC was to cover the entire early voting period and all voting centres, you’re looking at 600-odd early voting centres with multiple points, so thousands and thousands of these machines, which comes at a cost – not only purchasing them but maintaining software from election to election,” the spokesperson said.

Elections ACT will review the conduct of the poll and send a report to the Assembly.

”Whether we expand electronic voting past the early voting centres is in the wash-up,” the spokesperson said.

Some believe that once people vote early and use-e-voting they won’t go back, he said.

The spokesperson said that counting would continue officially until Saturday, although the bulk of votes would be processed by Friday.

Officially, the fifth seats in Ginninderra and Brindabella are still to be decided although some observers consider Liberal Candice Burch still a chance of pulling back Greens’ candidate Rebecca Vassarotti.

”We don’t put anything to bed until we officially declare them,” the spokesperson said.

Which means it’s best to wait to see if Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay hangs on in Ginninderra against Liberal Peter Cain, and who comes out on top between Labor’s Taimus Werner-Gibbings and the Greens’ Johnathan Davis in Brindabella.

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One of the upsides is that it is efficient. There are downsides and a downside of e-voting is that it is prone to hacking. It is also a challenge and daunting for people who are computer illiterate and elderly who are not used to computer technology. It can be problematic if people aren’t able to vote discreetly without assistance and can result in misvotes. It would be reasonable and fair to provide the option of paper ballots if voters at the polling booths request the option to vote in the traditional way.

Capital Retro9:04 am 22 Oct 20

No photo ID required, not even a password. The result is nothing will change regarding the “vote early, vote often” mentality that is rife in some sections of our electoral system.

any evidence for this? To my knowledge there has never been any evidence presented of multiple voting in Australia.

The problem with photo IDs is that sections of the population are excluded from voting – younger or older people without drivers licences for instance and indigenous people who are less likely to either have or carry photo ID.

Capital Retro11:44 am 22 Oct 20

I think it is about time you discovered the internet, dolphin: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-05-30/aec-to-refer-8000-cases-of-mulitple-voting-to-police/5488072

There was also the time in Queensland when some Labor party operatives even got recently deceased people to vote.

What that got to do with e-voting? The same basic issue applies for paper votes too.

That said at a local level the role that is used in the ACT elections is electronic too, so once your name has been marked off you cannot vote elsewhere.

Federal different as they use a printed role and they manually mark names off.

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