Saturday, October 18, 2008

Voted electronically in Canberra

Today I voted electronically in the ACT Government local election. This is the fourth time I have voted without paper: for the November 2007 Australian Federal Election and two previous local elections.

The integration of the screen into a standard cardboard pooling booth has been greatly improved from the time I first used the system in 2001. The only way to tell from a distance the booth is electronic, is a small barcode reader and numeric keypad. The integration is perhaps a little too good and a sign to indicate these are electronic polling booths would be useful.

An electoral official used a hand held PDA to check my enrolment details and record that I had voted (previously a paper electoral roll was used). I was then handed a barcoded card to activate the polling machine.

There were problems with the barcode reading, used to start and end voting. I had to call an official over to help. Many other people were having the same problem. The barcodes looked a little blurry and may not have been correctly printed.

Another minor problem were the temporary labels stuck on the standard numeric keypad used to select candidates. These labels looked very flimsy. It should be possible for the electoral commission to secure a supply of quality low cost labels for the keys.

Apart from that the process worked well. Unfortunately the ACT's political system does not match the sophistication of the voting system, with politicians unable to make effective use of technology to communicate with voters. The candidates resorted to crude television advertisements and paper pamphlets for this election. All the major parties ignored the "No Junk Mail" sign on my letterbox and put pamphlets in (the only others to do this are companies selling scam weight loss cures). The worst offender was a candidate with pamphlets three days in a row, designed to deceive the voter by appearing to be from another political party.

Recently I responded to a request from an international Non-Government Organisation to train government officials in e-Democracy in a developing nation. Perhaps similar training is needed in Canberra.

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