3 February 2021

Legislative Assembly committee to probe 2020's COVID-19 ACT election

| Ian Bushnell
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Worker at ACT election polling centre.

Early voting for the 2020 ACT election. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

The impact of COVID-19 on the ACT election, early voting and electronic voting will come under the scrutiny of a Legislative Assembly committee.

Last October’s poll, in which a Labor-Greens government was returned, was marked by measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including the encouragement to vote early to spread voting across the three-week voting period to avoid election day crowds.

Amendments to the ACT Electoral Act removed eligibility requirements for early voting, permitting all eligible electors to vote early at the 15 Early Voting Centres established across the city.

It was also an election in which most people voted electronically, which made for a fast count on election night and an early verdict on who would form government.

The committee will look at the implementation, security and transparency of electronic voting, which is not connected to the internet and involves standard personal computers as voting terminals, with voters using an e-voting card to authenticate their votes.

There was some controversy after the election when a report by cybersecurity expert and cryptographer Dr Vanessa Teague and mathematician Andrew Conway said the system was flawed and could lead to incorrect election results in the future if not corrected.

They said code used by Elections ACT incorrectly grouped votes and did not round down, although they did not believe any candidate was wrongly elected.

At the time, ACT Electoral Commissioner Damian Cantwell rejected the claims and stood by the system.

The Legislative Assembly committee will also examine the timeframe and accessibility of early voting, and the number and location of polling places, as well as the length of the six-week election campaign period.

Political donations will also be put under the microscope to see if there are ways to improve the current donation rules and timeframes for reporting donations.

New rules legislated before the ACT election will come into effect in the middle of 2021, including the banning of donations from property developers, and any gifts above the value of $1000 needing to be disclosed to the ACT Electoral Commission within seven days.

The committee will also look at restrictions on campaigning activities outside polling places, on roadside signs, and address the corflute question that dogs every election campaign.

Increasing voter turnout and participation in elections, and encouraging political activity is also on the agenda, as well as lowering the voting age, which the ACT Greens have supported, saying voting should be optional for 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds.

The chair of the Standing Committee on Justice and Community Safety, Liberal Jeremy Hanson, said the recent election was conducted during the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The committee looks forward to hearing from as many people as possible about their experiences of the 2020 election, and any ideas for improvement,” he said.

For more information or to make a submission, head to the ACT Legislative Assembly website.

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They should also be looking at preventing the CPSU from running propaganda and scare campaigns within the ACT PS, as they have done every election. It is a far bigger issue than campaigning outside polling places, and should be flat out banned.

I think your overegging it – a large chunk of the public service by definition is pretty well aware of local issues and knows the likelihood of direct impacts on their jobs from either party being in power, irrespective of what ‘propaganda’ might be out there. As such, I would think for most they are pretty set in their ways to begin with with who they will vote.

As someone that has worked in the ACTPS, it is no worse then what is seen elsewhere in various forms (I’ve worked in other PS as well) depending on what party is in government. And for many, what the unions do is irrelevant- they aren’t members and don’t receive emails from them bar at times bargaining is underway. Given many weren’t in the offices last year too, there weren’t really many ‘ins’ as such beyond the normal political dribble we see on TVs anyway for a reasonable chunk of the ACTPS.

And frankly, most people and big girls and boys and have relatively critical minds that think through things at length in the ACT electorate. There is a clear reason why scare campaigns and stunts like the liberals have done generally are ineffective. Plenty of people were willing to vote for change this time around I feel, but many won’t have done it on the basis of just how pathetic and weak the opposition’s overall campaign was and what they were offering. Half baked policy positions, and desperate Boriseque stunts wont’ get it done in Canberra.

Capital Retro8:24 am 05 Feb 21

Does anyone know how many people didn’t vote and how many informal votes there were? I have heard rumours that they were record high numbers.

Also, until the voting system uses photo ID the results are always going to be false.

Don’t listen to rumours, go to the Elections ACT website.

The informal % of the vote over the past 5 ACT elections was 2.7%, 3.8%, 3.5%, 2.5%, and 1.4% in the 2020 election. Increased voting by computer screen reduced the informal vote.

The turn out % of the electorate over the past 5 ACT elections was 92.8%, 90.4%, 89.3%, 88.5%, and 89.2% in the 2020 election. The turnout was about as expected.

Capital Retro2:29 pm 05 Feb 21

Thanks for digging that up.

One more thing though and that is how does increased voting by computer screen reduce informal votes? That simply doesn’t make sense.

The stats don’t say, but my guess is less mistakes are made using the screen than using pencil and paper. Pen and paper sometimes results in illegible numbers, the scrutineers can’t distinguish between a 1 or a 7, voters use an x or a tick instead of a number, etc.

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