The New South Wales government will look at digitising state elections, with its Minister for Digital Victor Dominello describing the switch to online voting as “easy”, despite experts warning against it and the state’s election authority saying it lacked funding to fix “urgent” cyber security risks.
At a digital.nsw event on Tuesday, Mr Dominello said it was “crazy” that citizens had to vote in-person and compared the ease and convenience of online voting and digital authentication methods to digital gambling.
“I would have thought that in a country that is besotted with the Everest [horse racing event] and the Melbourne Cup – where you can literally go up, place a bet and within microseconds of the horse passing that line, you get the score – we could have something similar for an election, rather than waiting weeks and weeks and weeks sometimes to get the decision,” he said.
Mr Dominello has led an overhaul of the state’s digital service delivery and government information technology, including the popular Service NSW phone app, which offers features like integrated COIVD-19 check in and a digital driver licence.
The state is now working on a wider rollout of digital credentials and identifications it says will reduce regulatory burdens and improve citizens’ access to services.
Mr Dominello said digitising the states elections is something he will “look at”, flagging both online voting and digital vote recording systems for in person voting.
“Every time I raise it with my colleagues, I just shake my head. I don’t know why we’re not doing it.”
At the 2015 New South Wales election more than 280,000 votes were received from a computer or phone in what was the largest-ever binding election to use online voting. But security researchers quickly discovered severe vulnerabilities in the state’s iVote system, which they found could have been exploited to manipulate votes.
There was no evidence the system had been compromised but the vulnerability underscored the risks of digital voting, according to the researchers, who pointed out some seats were decided by margins smaller than the amount of online votes. There were similar security concerns about the iVote system in 2017 and 2019, and the NSW government promised to open the iVote source code to the public.
Cybersecurity researcher Vanessa Teague, who discovered several of the flaws in the iVote system, said it should be scrapped and that digitising elections was far from easy, particularly for online voting.
“The risk with internet voting is not just that it might crash and have obvious problems, the real risk is that it might seem to be okay but actually have been susceptible to undetectable fraud,” Dr Teague told InnovationAus.
“iVote has been shown to have serious security vulnerabilities every time it’s run. And many of them have directly related to the opportunity for undetectable fraud.
“You might get to the end of the election, and everything might seem fine, but you don’t actually have any evidence that the outcome accurately reflects the people’s choice.”
In the lead up to next month’s New South Wales local government elections, where iVote will be used, the state’s electoral authority has warned it needed $22 million to fix “urgent” cybersecurity risks. But the funding has not been provided by the government, which said it is working with the NSW Electoral Commission on a business case for the money.
On Tuesday, Mr Dominello downplayed the risk of fraud in digitised elections, saying he was confident the government could build trust in a digital voting system, and the requirement to vote in-person drove him “bonkers”.
“It’s a cultural thing. It’s crazy,” Mr Dominello said. “It’s crazy in a world where I have not literally carried my wallet for three years, maybe even more. Since we digitise driver’s licences, you don’t need to anymore.
“So, it’s like going into a parallel universe when it comes to ballots.”
Mr Dominello said NSW elections could “absolutely” be digitised. “I don’t know why we haven’t done it, because you can do it. It’s so easy.”
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