Earth Hour on election night: Cast a vote for power

In the age of electronic voting, a power supply is the most important candidate

Sydney with the lights off for Earth Hour. Image: Erik Panch

Sydney with the lights off for Earth Hour. Image: Erik Panch

In a chance case of progress versus sustainability, the NSW Electoral Commission will be in the middle of counting electronic votes on the evening of March 26 when everyone else will switch their power off for Earth Hour.

The NSW government has been an avid supporter of Earth Hour, you know, that 60 minute period where people band together and actually do something to save the planet.

What about when the government needs to count votes: does it power its computers or flick the switch?

Earth Hour started in Sydney on March 31, 2007 at 7:30 pm. That year the state election was a week earlier – phew!

Electronic voting might be “greener” than paper ballots, but if the very green Earth Hour got its way there would be no electronic voting at all

Unfortunately in the modern era the management of information – including vote counting – requires continuous power supply.

From a political perspective, blogger Andrew Bolt noted last month "What NSW Labor couldn’t finish, the warmists will finish off" that Labor is set to “turn the lights out” if it is voted out of office. That is, of course, if the power is on to count the votes in the first place.

In recent months we’ve seen the most critical IT infrastructure – that inside the banks – suffer an inordinate amount of bugs and downtime – all with the power deliberately kept on!

The NSW Electoral Commission’s worst nightmare would be to have to wear the blame for botched vote counting because an entire city around it systematically disrupted the regular power demand. Let’s hope the UPSs and generators inside the NSW EC’s data centre are up to the task… just in case.

Cut the paper

People might say “voting is done on paper, so there will be a permanent record anyway”.

That’s true, but a hard copy will only exist if the vote was cast with a pencil and ballot paper.

In another election day irony, this year marks the first large-scale adoption of electronic voting and other online services across the state.

Electronic voting might be “greener” than paper ballots, but if the very green Earth Hour got its way there would be no electronic voting at all.

As mentioned, computers (like personal notebooks and e-voting kiosks), networks and data storage servers all need a constant power supply to operate effectively so it’s a good thing voting closes at 6pm on the day and not 8:30pm.

While there’s no reason to suggest anything untoward will happen to electronic votes, there is always a possibility of data loss in any system, so let’s hope the excitement of Earth Hour doesn’t cause any problems.

Switching off the election result

Earth Hour may not disrupt the vote counting, but it surely will result in people tuning in on the result, right?

Given everyone is predicting a landslide the result may come in well before 8:30pm. If it doesn’t will people watch the live coverage or switch their TVs off?

Moreover, will the broadcasters themselves play their part in saving the planet? Don’t laugh, a number of broadcasters around the world have actually suspended broadcasting during Earth Hour, so don’t completely rule out a delayed election result.

Like all mission-critical services, vote counting in the 2011 NSW state election will go ahead as planned.

The fact the election clashes with Earth Hour simply reminds us all how much more power-dependent we have become. Make your vote count.

Follow Rodney Gedda on Twitter: @rodneygedda

Follow TechWorld Australia on Twitter: @Techworld_AU

Tags earth hourpowerNSW Electoral CommissionNSW State Governmentgreen ITenergygovernment

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