Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Electronic Voting in Australia for Military Personnel and the Disabled

Scytl e-voting terminal
In August the Federal Government announced trials by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) of electronic voting for the vision impaired and military personnel.

The AEC hasn't said much about their plans to implement these. The not-so-obvious approach would be to use the one electronic voting system for disabled users, military personnel and the general public. Building a voting system for the ADF would not seem to have much in common with one for the disabled. But in my work on web based systems for the Department of Defence I noted similarities. For the Beijing Olympics 2008 I suggested the use of one common web interface for kiosks, disabled users and ordinary web users.

A report on "Electronic Voting and Electronic Counting of Votes" (report 1) was prepared by staff of the Victorian and Australian Electoral Commissions in March 2001. This report suffers from being very out of date and having concentrated on US voting technology. The USA is behind much of the world, including the third world, when it comes to e-voting technology. A second, better report "eVolution not revolution - Electronic Voting" was issued September 2002 with more on UK and other European systems.

The leader in e-voting in Australia is the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) which has used it Linux based EVACS system, developed by the local company Software Improvements. I have used this system to vote in two local government elections. The Commonwealth Parliamentary Library issued a Research Note "Electronic Voting in the 2001 ACT Election" (no 46) about it in 2002.

The next most advanced in Australia is the Victorian Parliament, who had an inquiry on Electronic Democracy in 2005 and invited me to give evidence. The Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) submission suggested a e-voting kiosk pilot. This was only intended for the disabled and those with limited English. The Victorian Electoral and Parliamentary Committees Legislation (Amendment) Act 2006 restricts electronic voting to these voters. This seems an unnecessary with any ACT voters being able to use the electronic kiosks in the Canberra system.

The VEC is planning to conduct the pilot at six "E Centres" at November's state election. This appears to be about the same size as the ACT system. Unlike the ACT system, the Victorian system is only an electronic front end to the paper based count. After the voter casts their ballot electronically, a paper ballot is printed and processed as for the manual system. In contrast the ACT put in place the opposite of this: paper ballots are entered into an electronic back end along with the electronic ballots. This greatly speeds up vote counting and reduces problems with disputed ballots. It also makes the ACT's Hare-Clark electoral system, where casual vacancies are filled by a count back of votes, much quicker.

The Victorian system was produced by Hewlett Packard in conjunction with Spanish company Scytl, who have produced several systems for European e-voting.
Scytl and Hewlett Packard will supply poll-site electronic voting terminals (DREs) in the State of Victoria (Australia) for the November 2006 parliamentary elections. The electronic voting terminals will be based on HP PCs with Scytl Pnyx.DRE ™software to provide these terminals with the highest levels of security and with accessibility for blind and visually impaired voters.

From: Scytl wins e-voting contract in Australia, Scytl, 2006
Scytl and Hewlett Packard will provide poll-site electronic voting terminals (DREs) in the State of Victoria (Australia) for the November 2006 parliamentary elections. The electronic voting terminals are based on HP PCs with Scytl Pnyx.DRE™ software to provide these terminals with the highest levels of security and with accessibility for blind and visually impaired voters. These e-voting terminals are designed to be accessible for people with physical disabilities and have an audio system that allows blind and visually impaired voters to navigate through the ballot options and to make their selection without assistance. Furthermore, these e-voting terminals warn voters of unintentional "“over-voting"” and "“under-voting"” mistakes, allowing voters to make the appropriate corrections before casting their votes. Finally, the e-voting terminals designed by Scytl support twelve different languages to allow people with poor English skills to vote with total privacy.

From: Scytl Clients, Scytl, 2006
The Scytl system did not get a good review in "A STUDY OF VOTE VERIFICATION TECHNOLOGY" by University of Maryland in January 2006.

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