Electronic votes from next year

James Riley
Editorial Director

Electronic voting will be in action in the House of Representatives within the federal Parliament from next year, with government on the verge of opening a tender process for the service.

The Leader of the House of Representatives Christopher Pyne said on Tuesday that electronic voting would be in use in the lower house for votes on legislation, “dramatically speeding up the voting process”.

“The implementation of electronic voting will reduce significantly the time required for each vote in the chamber. Voting outcomes will be transparent, accurate and known immediately, freeing up more time for important parliamentary business to be conducted each day the House sits,” Mr Pyne said.

Christopher Pyne: Has press the green light on electronic votes in parliament

“Electronic voting will also provide an electronic solution for recording division voting and improve online accessibility to division process and results.”

The Department of Parliamentary Services will run the tender for the project, which it said gives “innovative Australians and Australian businesses an opportunity to contribute to this initiative”.

It was reported earlier this year that a prototype system for electronic voting was being tested by Parliamentary Services

Once the scheme is implemented, Australia will be in line with several other countries that already have electronic voting within their parliaments, including the US and South Korea.

Electronic voting within federal parliament has been in the works for several years, and has enjoyed bipartisan support since a cross-party committee produced a report in 2016 overwhelmingly in support of the concept.

“After considering a range of technology options, the Committee is confident that a secure and reliable electronic voting system, suited to the needs of the House, is achievable,” the report said.

“Modernising voting procedures will save the time of the House, will ensure immediate availability of accurate results and will send the message that the House is willing to embrace technological change while retaining valued traditions and practices.”

Mr Pyne’s announcement did not contain any information on the details of how electronic voting would work and how it would be implemented.

The committee’s report in 2016 outlined a process that would uphold many of the Parliament’s traditions, with members still moving to the left and right of the House to indicate their vote.

The committee indicated that MPs could be provided with a unique swipe or touch card for the voting system, with the results of each division displayed on screens within the lower house.

The report included four ways electronic voting could be implemented within Parliament: standalone portable devices, voting panels attached to members’ desks, an app on members’ phones, using facial recognition technology or portable kiosks in the chamber.

Costs for these services ranged significantly, with the use of facial biometrics and cameras to identify how each member is voting based on their location in chamber estimated to cost up to $4.6 million and then $350,000 annually to support.

The cheapest of these options was for standalone portable devices that can be used from any location in the House of Representatives. The committee estimated that this would cost up to $2.8 million to implement, with yearly upkeep costs of $250,000.

The main advantage to electronic voting touted by the government is the time it will save in forgoing the need for time-consuming divisions and counts.

Included in the disadvantages with electronic voting was the difficulty in the general public knowing what each member voted for, the risk to the integrity of votes and the loss of the cooling off period after a vote.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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