iVote written out of NSW law as digital voting review begins

Digital voting has been written out of New South Wales electoral law following the Electoral Commissioner’s decision to scrap the iVote system until after the 2023 state election, as a review begins to consider allowing voting on personal devices from 2027.

The amendment is one of several contained in an omnibus Electoral Legislation Amendment Bill largely concerned with political donations and electoral expenditure, that cleared state Parliament on Wednesday.

The bill introduces “special provisions” preventing the use of “technology-assisted voting, other than telephone voting for vision impaired or blind electors” for the 2023 state election and any by-elections before that time.

Ahead of the passage of the bill, New South Wales Minister for Finance Damien Tudehope on Tuesday said the amendment is consistent with the Electoral Commissioner’s determination to shelve the digital voting system indefinitely in March.

The decision followed a technical glitch that prevented an unknown amount of people from voting in council elections last December. Three ballots — in Kempsey, Singleton and Shellharbour Ward A – were voided as a result but were ultimately re-run in July.

“The NSW Electoral Commissioner has stated that the current version of iVote software used by the Electoral Commission will be phased out,” Mr Tudehope told Parliament during the second reading debate on Tuesday.

“The short runway for configuring and testing a new version before March 2023 means the Electoral Commissioner cannot be confident an updated system adapted for elections in New South Wales will be ready in time.”

The bill also makes changes to postal voting provisions for the upcoming election in anticipation for an increase in postal voting in part “due to the absence of iVote”, outgoing Liberal MP and former parliamentary secretary Gabrielle Upton said introducing the bill in June.

Passage of the bill comes as the NSW Electoral Commission begins a year-long review of technology-assisted voting (TAV) that will investigate “whether internet and other forms of TAV (in addition to ordinary telephone voting) can be provided… at future elections”.

“The Electoral Commissioner has commenced a review of TAV in New South Wales to provide recommendations for future options for TAV to the New South Wales government,” Mr Tudehope said.

A consultation framework paper for the review was set for release last Friday but a spokesperson for the NSWEC told InnovationAus.com that it has been temporarily delayed. Submissions to the review will close at beginning of December, with an interim report expected in April 2023.

According to the terms of reference, the review will consider the “feasibility of making TAV available though personal networked devices at the 2027 State election and subsequent state and local government elections”.

The “risks and benefits of TAV to the integrity of the NSW electoral system” will also be examined, as will “contemporary… standards for balancing accessibility, cost, privacy and security in digital transactions” in relation to voting.

NEWEC will also consider the “needs of electors who are blind or have low vision, and other electors with a disability” by taking advice from a reference group made up of Blind Citizens Australia, Guide Dogs NSW and Vision Australia.

Both Vision Australia and Blind Citizens Australia have expressed concern over the move to stop using the iVote system as it prevents blind and vision impaired Australians from casting a secret, independent and verifiable vote.

iVote was originally introduced for blind and vision impaired voters in 2011 before a series of legislative changes expanded use of online voting to others, most recently in the wake of the pandemic.

Blind Citizens Australia in August lodged a human rights complaint against the NSW Electoral Commission, alleging the decision to scrap iVote without a replacement “amounts to unlawful disability discrimination”.

New South Wales Minister for Customer Service and Digital Government Victor Dominello last year supported expanding digital voting more widely and said it would be “easy”. But cybersecurity experts warned it was anything but and introduces risks of undetectable fraud.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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