Electoral commission cautions against rush to e-voting

Australian Electoral Commission tells inquiry that e-voting could not safely be introduced before the next federal election

The Australian Electoral Commission has cautioned a parliamentary inquiry about rushing to implement a federal electronic voting scheme.

Tom Rogers, the acting electoral commissioner, told an inquiry Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters that he was "concerned about our ability to introduce some form of electronic voting safely" before the next federal election.

The joint standing committee is currently conducting an inquiry into the 2013 federal election. The inquiry was launched after the debacle in Western Australia which saw the state have to head to the polls for a second time after upper house ballots were lost.

"We've deliberately been cautious in our language around this issue because I genuinely think this is such a fundamental change to the way in which Australians will vote that it's quite properly a matter for parliament," Rogers told the inquiry this morning.

"I think that I think that any thing's possible and if parliament asks us to conduct a trial, introduce some form of electronic voting ... we'll pull out all stops and you know we'll try and make it happen," the acting commissioner said.

However the rushed introduction of e-coting would threaten another "WA situation".

"I'm not commenting ... about whether electronic voting is a good idea or Internet voting is a good idea, and all the risks associated with that. I'm merely confining myself to the implementation. I would be worried about any form of large-scale adoption before the next election, even a trial.

"Even if the committee recommended something like 'why don't you take a couple of seats, why don't you take two seats and run some sort of trial of electronic voting.' We would not have the internal ability now to do that. We would have already had to have started that process."

An e-voting system that failed could "destroy the community's confidence in any form of electronic voting for a long time into the future".

"We certainly would need to work with industry," Rogers said. "That [large scale e-voting] is not a capability we would have internally. We'd have to evaluate a range of different solutions."

The AEC in 2007 conducted limited electronic voting trials for vision impaired people and members of the Australian armed forces. The trial was "generally well received" but the per vote cost was "significant".

"It may be that this committee would like us to look at re-evaluating or re-doing one of those very minor trials — perhaps some further work in the blind and vision space, with some of our ADF personnel overseas or even perhaps ... isolated voters in the Antarctic."

Rogers said there are areas where greater use of new technology could streamline federal elections that fall short of full blown e-voting. These include the use of electronic roll-marking, or what the AEC calls "electronic certified lists".

"Electronic certified lists is an area where we can really get some benefit in terms of the fidelity of voting, ease, [and] ultimately reduction in costs of printing," Rogers said.

Electronic certified lists were used as an alternative to printed electoral rolls in a by-election in the seat of Griffith. That trial was successful, Rogers said.

"It's likely to be at the next election we will target the use of those certified lists at particular areas," the acting commissioner said. Such a system would likely to be used for mobile polling services to cut down on the weight of printed rolls and at early voting centres.

Read more: Senate to reveal voting code, whether the AEC likes it or not

Tags e-votingAustralian Electoral Commission (AEC)electronic voting

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