WA Electoral Commission to develop telephone voting system

The agency began work on the system after funding for its internet voting system was withdrawn

The WA Electoral Commission (WAEC) has commenced work on a telephone-based voting system after the the State Government withdrew funding for its internet voting system.

WAEC IT manager, Desmond Chenik, told Computerworld Australia the full internet voting system it was scheduled to develop this year, for the blind and vision impaired along with the armed forces, had been put on hold after several months of work.

According to Chenik, the WAEC has put in another request with the government for the funding but even if the request is approved later this year, the internet-based system would not be ready in time for the next state election in March 2013 (the state now has fixed four year election periods).

“It wouldn’t be ready for the next election as it would probably take 10 to 12 months of development work plus another few months of going through the design work again to make sure the technology hasn’t changed and we can’t do better or whatever.

“We had done three quarters of the design effort and were about to start the actual development phase when the funding was withdrawn.”

The telephone voting system, which was scheduled to come after the internet-based system as an add-on, will enable people to cast a secret vote from home via their telephone. However, the system’s use remains hinged on legislation and around how much leeway the government allows, Chenik said.

“If they say we can have anybody use it, which I doubt as they’ll never say that, then it’ll be open to everybody.”

Voters will dial in and be given secret codes and numbers to use on their telephone keypad with which they will cast their vote. The information will then be transferred straight through to the commission’s central files.

“They won’t speak to anybody; it’ll all be recorded messages with the names, ballot papers and all the information and by pushing different keys on the keypad. We’ll be able to tell them which person they voted for or give them instructions should they need to go back and retry.”

It will also be scalable in order to handle very large volumes of voters.

Chenik could not comment on where the project was in terms of development but said it would be used at the next election, costs and legislation permitting.

“Legislation currently does not allow it but we’re looking at that,” he said. “We’ve worked out how we’re going to do it and how it will work and we’re now looking at costs, can we afford to do it without extra funding there’s a possibility we will be able to then yes we’ll look at the legislation, it all takes time.”

The WAEC has also made solid progress with the computer-based voting app, flagged back in July, for blind and vision-impaired voters to cast an independent vote for the first time.

“It will be on a computer with a numeric keypad and everything will come up on the screen for the dyslexic or vision-impaired," Chenik said at the time. "Blind voters will be given earphones and the keypad and it’ll talk them through the process.”

The system, developed by a team of two, will be rolled out in around 30 polling places where there are higher numbers of blind and vision impaired but the locations are yet to be confirmed.

According to Chenik, the app has received “promising” feedback from a number of vision-impaired people from various associations who have tested the system.

“We’re working on the feedback and streamlining it, making sure it’s ready and 100 per cent and then we’ll set up some sort of meeting to try and identify which polling places would be best.”

Follow Chloe Herrick on Twitter: @chloe_CW

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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