VEC expands electronic assistance for disadvantaged voters

Legislation and technology changes enabled those with language, memory, reading or motor difficulties to vote electronically in early voting centres

Plans from the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) to implement an Electronically Assisted Voting (EAV) system are being prepared to suit a wider variety of voters with disabilities.

Initially intentioned to suit just those with vision impairments, the system will now suit those with language, memory, reading or motor difficulties as well.

“In August, they said we could now serve the people who can’t read English or who would be unlikely to be able to read one of our ballots, and also people who are unlikely to be able to fill a ballot in with a pencil – that’s nearly half a million people," VEC project manager of the IT branch, Craig Burton, told Computerworld Australia.

The EAV system will not be provided on election day, however, a decision Burton attributes to the majority of voters who will be using the system being first time users, and potentially taking some time to cast their vote.

The VEC outlined the proposed project in March, which will use 102 touchscreen-based kiosks deployed to mobile and stationary early voting centre sites around Victoria, interstate and the United Kingdom during the early voting period from 15 to 26 November this year. E-voting using a telephone will also be available in the centres.

The state commission has also increased the number of early voting centres from six in 2006 to 111 this year, with a change in legislation allowing the commission to serve those with other disabilities.

"There will also be some mobile centres, places like Vision Australia, Guide Dogs, Blind Citizens Australia, those places we know we’re going to get a good number of people,” Burton said.

Of the 111 centres, 100 will be based in Victoria, while eight are located interstate, and three will be deployed in the England in the areas of Manchester, Edinburgh and Central London.

“What we’re testing is, if we make this available in Manchester and Edinburgh, where it’s never been available before, even on paper, will they come and vote?”

Another incentive to implement E-voting in the UK, Burton says, stems from early voting starting late and finishing early, resulting in issues getting the ballots to England and back in time.

According to Burton, there will be touchscreen kiosk machines at 47 of the 100 Victorian early voting centres, with SIP-based VoIP and GSM-type phones at all locations as an alternative.

Six months since the project was first launched, software updates and improvements have been completed by the commission, servers and private networks are in place and 56 private network nodes have been installed in the Victorian centres.

The system’s software design has been examined and “attacked" by “trusted insiders”, including a University of Melbourne PhD student studying cryptography and contracted information security specialists to test for weaknesses, of which there were none.

To ensure the system runs smoothly on the day early voting kicks off, the VEC will hold a full scale test of the system on 8 November in a mock election.

“With elections you can’t move the date, so normally software development projects tend to run late, but in this case it just can’t slip… given the size and complexity of the system, we want to have a full scale run of the system with the actually voting staff, using the kiosks and the phones, the live servers, the telephone system, the whole deal and to sort of hammer it on the Monday preceding the 15th when it goes live,” Burton said. “That way if there’s the slightest problem we’ve got a week to deal with it.”

“With elections it’s such a short period, you really can’t be playing catch up.”

The project will keep a small number of systems running until the end of the Challenge Period, the 26 January 2011, should there be any contention about the election results.

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Tags e-votingVictorian electoral commission

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