Electronic Voting – Where is it?

A couple of days ago, I came across an article at ZDNet about the Victoria Electoral Commission expanding its e-voting deployment through the use of Linux-based computers. It still fascinates me that in this day and age that we still resort to pencil and paper and physically turn up at a designated location to cast a vote in a municipal, state or federal election.

This sort of e-voting still requires you to turn up but forgo the pencil, paper and ballot box and simply use a touch screen instead. Now, I’ve never used one of these machines myself (as the trial was limited to visually impaired people or military personnel of which I am neither) but some of those forms can be quite a job to fill in such as the Senate ballot paper. Before you ask, yes, I am one of those people that will fill in every box below the line because I hate the idea of my preferences being decided by someone else.

I still find this sort of solution frustrating as you would still need to rock up to a voting place, get your name crossed off (still probably on paper instead of using a database) and then wait in a line to use a computer.

Why can’t I vote at home? We can do a census online so why can’t we vote online?

Why waste paper on the ballot forms and the crappy voting material you receive when running the gauntlet to get to the voting booths?

It’s time that the electoral commissions across the nation to get their act together and bring us into the 21st century. So much money could be saved by removing all of the manual labour from the whole process.


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  1. Agreed. The amount of materials wasted on advertising that is handed to you on the day of voting (only to be dumped on the nearest chair or the ground seconds later) seems like a massive lack of environmental responsibility.

    Having said that, online systems are just more prone to malicious attacks than a paper based ballot. They are counted (with invalid votes discarded) by real people and a sign-in based system prevents someone from taking 10 voting pages and dropping them all into the box. You’re handed one piece of paper and that’s all you get. Online systems can be manipulated to have more than one ‘vote’ submitted by one user – and let’s face it, politics is a avenue likely to generate such an effort.

    • zhivan wasinski on March 10, 2010 at 21:27
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    Totally agree turning up in person is a major pain. Can’t stand running the gauntlet of spruikers after fighting for a motorbike space on the footpath.

    Once they tried to fine me for not turning up because one of the muppets crossed off someone else instead of my name! How many Zhivan Wasinskis are there in Australia anyway?

    They should have a system similar to e-Tax for those of us that have PCs and broadband.

    My 2c

    • Cam Davidson on March 10, 2010 at 22:37
    • Reply

    Mmmm, can’t agree on this one, at least in the short term.

    Elections need to be absolutely, 100% guaranteed free from error, or indeed risk of such.

    So we get people to vote from home…what about those who don’t own a computer? Whose internet happens to be down that day? What happens if there’s a system failure? It’s not an unheard of occurence.

    Voting needs to be accessible by all – the 90 year old great grandmother who wouldn’t know the first thing about computers all of a sudden has to change the way she’s voted for decades? Sure, somebody could show her how to use it…but then the entire notion of a ‘secret ballot’ is lost.

    We did use electronic voting in a Monash student council election in 2001 – it worked well, the results were collated in a flash and we all got to the pub a bit earlier. Having said that, student elections are in no way comparable to the governance of the nation.

    My simplest argument would be (and I normally hate it, but in this case feel its warranted) – if it ‘aint broke, why fix it?

  2. @Cam Davidson

    You raise some good points. I stopped short of mentioning the older citizens amongst us and how such a change might impact them (in these cases, paper ballots would probably be more effective compared to deploying touchscreens in the polling place or providing an option of remote voting.

    I suppose it’s a bit like Internet banking. If you want to use it then you can but if you prefer the telephone or visit a branch (if possible). Certainly the bank would prefer you use the Internet as it might be cheaper.

    I guess though the fact that your access to the Internet might be down could be likened to the something like your car breaking down or a fatal accident on your way to reach a polling place resulting in your being unable to vote on time.

    Stuff happens and you need to find a solution to do your bit when you need to vote.

    I do also agree that a federal election is a different kettle of fish to something like a student council election. The key difference is that for something as large and significant as a federal election, you would have vendor support that specifies service level agreements for system restoration and harsh penalties if the system doesn’t cope with the load placed upon it. Vendors stand to make a lot of money if they do the job right or come off worse for wear if it all comes tumbling down.

    I guess from the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach, we wouldn’t have the advancements that we have today if we didn’t challenge that notion (either warranted or unwarranted). I guess from my own point of view I think it’s a great idea and would have no problem standing corrected if it turns out that it isn’t. Of course, everyone has their own opinion as evidenced on the feedback on my blog and it certainly gives me some food for thought.

  3. @zhivan wasinski

    Lucky for me I haven’t had any issues with voting! I absolutely dread walking through the avenue of pamplets but as an introvert that really shouldn’t come as a suprise!

  4. @HotdogWithSauce

    Nothing is ever perfect. I guess I would argue that you could theoretically decrease the number of invalid votes by enforcing validation on a e-vote which would have to go through rigourous testing before deployment. It would certainly avoid issues like those reported in the infamous US presidential election between Al Gore and George W Bush. Fancy counting and recounting votes that had faint pencil markings on the edge of a box?

    One thing I don’t understand is what is physically stopping people from going to one polling place in an electorate, casting a vote and then going to the next polling place and doing the same thing? Sure, there are penalties for undertaking such a practice but there isn’t any form of physical prevention in place, just a query as to whether or not an individual has already cast a vote that day by polling staff. When the electoral rolls are reconciliated that person’s name will be crossed off numerous times but the votes have been cast and you cannot trace the ballot papers back to the person.

    Certainly, with an e-vote you should have some sort of multi-factor authentication in place like the census. You can signup online and obtain a user identification number and password and the receive an additional authentication code in the mail. The authentication code should be some sort of hash or derivitive of the identification number and password to prevent impersonation or casual guessing. Of course, each combination of the above could only be used to cast one vote but if someone has back end access to the database holding this information then all bets are off.

    At any rate, I would certainly leave that up to the security specialists to work out what would be best though!

  1. […] find disappointing is that we are still unable to cast a digital vote. I’ve covered this in a prior blog entry but I’d like to see this happen some time in the next decade. We’ve seen the legal […]

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