Project: iVote – Internet Voting in New South Wales, Australia

Internet and telephone voting for disabled, illiterate or remote voters in the 2011 New South Wales State General Elections in March


Modern Democracy Magazine

Every eligible voter, regardless of disability or geographic location, deserves the opportunity to exercise his or her right to vote. Yet millions of citizens in remote locations as well as those with visual, motor, or cognitive impairments are unable to do so using traditional paper ballots and polling station voting solutions. Therefore, the Australian State of New South Wales (NSW) has provided an example of bringing equality to voting by offering remote electronic voting.

Proven remote electronic election solutions deliver secure ballots, improve privacy and ensure accuracy and are compatible with assistive devices for persons with disabilities, and enable voting from any location.

These reasons have been the goal of the NSW-termed ‘iVote’ project, initially developed to give voters with disabilities or those living far from a polling station the ability to cast a secret ballot, unassisted, from a location of their choosing. Legislation was later implemented to extend iVote to intrastate and overseas voters.

Solutions Used in NSW

- eLect® Universal: Remote electronic (internet) voting
- eLect® Access: Telephone voting
- Central Print: Ballots were decrypted and printed in a central location on Election Day to be included in the normal count process. The ballot printout was designed to match the postal ballot so there was anonymity among the voting solutions.

These solutions enabled eligible, disabled (blind, vision impaired, physically incapacitated or illiterate) voters who often require assistance at polling stations creating conditions that could prevent independent voting as well as remote voters to cast their vote.

Improving Ballot Access and Demonstrating Scalability

The Everyone Counts eLect® Platform provided the NSW Electoral Commission (NSWEC) with online and telephone voting for eligible voters in the March 2011 State General Election. The eLect Platform utilized by NSW under the “iVote” brand provided accessibility and functionality to voters who may have otherwise been unable to participate in this election.

The iVote system, created by Everyone Counts in partnership with the NSWEC, was originally designed to enfranchise voters with disabilities and those living 20km or more from a polling station. Upon evaluation of the solution being offered, legislation was subsequently passed to extend the use of iVote to all voters who were out of NSW on Election Day, whether intrastate or overseas.

The NSWEC originally estimated a maximum turnout of between 5,000 and 15,000 votes during the election period; as legislation was altered and eligibility increased, so did the expected voter turnout. Everyone Counts and the NSWEC rose to the challenge and rapidly adjusted systems, processes, and procedures to accommodate the additional voter demand, making possible the total of 46,864 votes cast during the election period. This scalability requirement for increased usage, as done with eLect, is readily available by way of using flexible election technology.

Presenting Australia's unique above and below-the-line ballot via online and telephone voting demonstrates the flexibility provided by electronic solutions. Design of the applications is limitless and the technology streamlines the transfer of data amongst election processes. For NSW voters, the complex ballot presented in Braille could be as long as 67 pages; presenting the ballot electronically not only allows the voter to vote independently and privately, but it can offer features such as allowing a voter to return to their ballot with marks saved, if so chosen by the election official. Those features improve the voter experience and participation.

Just as important as the provision of remote, electronic voting is the vendor choice. Not only is it critical that a chosen vendor has demonstrated success, providing a spotless record, but they must also have the flexibility to respond to, and even anticipate, the needs of the election jurisdiction. In the case of the NSWEC, having both oversight and direct influence into the building of the election and its processes was important.

The NSWEC worked with Everyone Counts to allow for local hosting of all election data. Third party firms were chosen for penetration testing, process and technology audits, W3C accessibility compliance, and to gain voter feedback on the usability of demonstration systems.

iVote by phone, using Everyone Counts eLect Access, produced the world’s first Telephone Voting Standard compliant phone voting system; usability guidelines were outlined in the Australian / New Zealand Telephone Voting Standards, as well as the AS/NZS 4263.

In addition to increased privacy and accessibility, implementation of remote, electronic voting has removed travel burdens for some NSW voters. As voting in Australia is compulsory being able to vote using any Internet or telephone connection was particularly advantageous for NSW voters. 

Conclusion

The eLect Platform provided a highly effective and consistent way of voting, regardless of whether the voter was using an assistive device like a screen reader, a traditional computer, or other mobile device. With the addition of a remote electronic voting solution, all citizens regardless of location or ability are equal in their ability to exercise their full voting rights – even if unable to reach a polling station or mark a paper ballot.