Electoral commission moves to web mapping service

New geospatial service delivers accurate information down to the roof of the elector's house

The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) will implement a web-based mapping service next year allowing its staff to better identify and locate Australians on the electoral role.

The RollMap solution, developed by PSMA Australia, will enable the commission’s 150 individual electoral offices to easily identify individual registrants and determine any potential anomalies without requiring internal geospatial expertise. A “geocode” or coordinate will ultimately be given to each elector down to the roof of their place of living to ensure the commission has up to date information on each registered voter.

A mobile version is also planned with a precaching capability in situations where fieldworkers are unable to use satellite imagery to determine and rectify anomalies.

The solution is based on a number of datasets already in the AEC’s possession, as well as those licensed from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), the Defence Imagery and Geospatial Organisation (DIGO) and a high resolution imagery dataset delivered under a whole-of-government contract to the Department of Climate Change under tender in 2009. The AEC’s solution has been in development for roughly a year, but the commission still needs to recitfy approximately 800,000 anomalies before full implementation is made in the early portion of 2011.

While the AEC has traditionally based its electoral location and boundary data solely on the ABS' datasets, this become arduous and error-prone as population grew.

Speaking the spatial@gov conference in Canberra this week, the AEC’s geospatial advisor, Paul Slater, said the commission had now “come full circle” to when the electoral roll was first established during the beginning of the 20th century.

“Our people will now be able to have the required certainty of the place of living in an analogous way to what happened 100 years ago.” he said. “Of course we can visualise where that person lives and pinpoint them regardless of how we refer to them through standardised or non-standard addressing formats.”

However, the electronic system was also a stepping stone to the AEC becoming more reliant on electronic communication with Australians for electoral registration and information, through websites, emails and SMS messaging.

“We’re actively looking at ways we can significantly reduce the amount of paper we use for interaction,” he says.

The move is likely a step forward to online registration for potential voters, a capability granted by the Federal Court in August this year when it judged in favour of political campaign group GetUp!

"With 1.4 million Australians not on the electoral roll earlier this year, we need to do every single thing we can to get bureaucracy and red tape out of the way," GetUp! national director, Simon Sheikh, told the ABC at the time.

"We know that we pay our taxes online, that we do our banking online and we should be able to enrol to vote online."

Slater said the AEC’s use of imagery datasets from the Department of Climate Change had also provided an important precedence for whole of government data sharing, with a license that allowed all levels of government to purchase require imagery at a cost of $1.50 per square kilometre for the first buyer, $0.30 for the second and free for subsequent buyers.

“You have to ask the question why there isn’t more collaboration between different areas of government,” he said. “The AEC, like a number of other agencies across government, is quite small, but has a strategic role which is fundamental to the function of democracy in government. Certainly, for smaller agencies like the AEC, whole of government collaboration will allow us to use location by putting expensive tools and datasets in reach of everyone.”

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Tags Australian Electoral Commission (AEC)geospatial intelligence

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