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NSW Electoral Commission looks to revive Internet Voting

First Published: Wed Jan 17 2024
Last Updated: Wed Jan 17 2024

So it looks like the NSW Electoral Commission is looking to have another go at building an online voting platform

For those who may not be aware, the state of New South Wales used to have a somewhat controversial election tool called iVote. It was an online voting platform that was both pitched as an aid for those with Vision Impairment and touted by some as the way forward in integrating the online world and our basic democratic rights and duties.

For many, iVote was controversial due to inherent conflict between a system that tracks a vote and could potentially allow a vote to be tracked back to the voter and the principal of a secret vote. For others it was closed nature of the system, which meant that a voter couldn't be sure that their vote was allocated correctly, they had to trust the operators, where the paper system relied on the ability for the public to scrutinise and verify that votes were counted correctly.

What iVote DID do however was present the Vision Impaired with an alternative to either having a delegated election worker fill out the form for them or a dated telephone voting system. Braille voting slips have only just become available for Local Government Elections in New South Wales and aren't available for State or Federal elections.

So everything was trundling along fine, iVote seemed to work for the State elections and then the NSW Electoral Commission decided to use iVote for the 2021 Local Government Elections. That's when the front fell off.  Driven by much higher than expected demand (the 2021 elections were being held in the shadow of the COVID pandemic, with more people opting to vote online rather than in person) the system wasn't able to cope and crashed on election day. A number of elections had to be re-held due to determinations that the system crash had materially affected the outcome by preventing people from voting.

In the ensuing furor it was decided that iVote would no longer be offered at all in future elections as the public trust in the system was irreparably broken.

iVote was dead, and the vision impaired were stuck back with the telephone or asking someone else to fill out the form for them.

This new attempt at an online voting tool appears to be starting with vision impaired people as the primary target.

The NSW Electoral Commission (NSWEC) on Friday kicked off its search for a new off-the-shelf internet voting system for elections that could be used by as many as 4,000 blind or low vision voters during the 2027 state election.

So they're not looking at this being available until 2027 (at least they'll have braille voting slips for the 2025 Local Government Elections), and there will be all the challenges inherent in building an online election system. The tender put does require that the successful vendor adhere to the Eleven essential principles for an Australian internet voting service (PDF) so we'll see how well that tracks.

Look personally, I'm not a huge fan of computer based voting systems. This may come from a very deep well of cynicism I've built up in the time in the industry and could be a personal failing. However the vision impaired deserve better than what they have now, and if we can ensure that the NSW Electoral Commission doesn't just get blindsided by the shiny tech (hush those of you I know who are rolling their eyes) then perhaps something useful will come out of it.