Americans love their democracy. As soon as one election is over people start campaigning for the next one two or four years away. There is no other nation on this planet as keen on elections as Americans. In 2000 Arizona held a primary election with the option of internet voting. This was a world first and was thought to completely revolutionise voting as it was the first legally binding public election. The only problem was all Macintosh computers failed to register a vote when users thought they had registered a vote. People were not happy to have their democratic right as a citizen taken off them because of the technology. This disenfranchisement and failure of the voting system is a major reason why we do not universally have internet voting or other forms of electronic voting today. Electronic voting also has drawbacks. It was detailed after the 2000 Florida Presidential election when the new computer ballot system in some of the counties did not leave any paper trail. This did not allow a manual hand recount when the need arose. No computer system is foolproof. Computer systems can have errors or a polling place may lose power. If there is no paper trail there is no way to check and verify a count.
In the 2000 Floridian case the count was very close on the first count. Statewide there was less than a thousand votes between a President George Bush and a President Al Gore. 2000 was a bad year for electronic voting: there was been some successes and some failures since. This is not trivial; we’re talking about the entire legitimising basis of our democratic system.
It surprised me, given the categorically poor experience of voting in the United States, that Malcolm Turnbull has proposed proceeding with electronic voting in electoral reform. Turnbull cites the increasing informal vote from 5.5 per cent in 2010 to 5.9 per cent as why we should move to electronic voting. Most people above the age of 18 in this country can read the simple instructions on the ballot. Most of the growth in informal voting in recent elections has been intentional informal voting where people opt out of the voting process because the options presented to them are not to their desire.
Introducing electronic voting is not the answer.
Paper ballots provide the only 100 per cent safe means to elect our representatives. They also have voter assurance built in to the mechanism. Moving to a system of electronic voting would further endanger the integrity of the electoral system. Surely when it comes to elections we want to reduce risk factors and not add risks.
If Australia is to embark on voter reform it should do so on amending the above the line group voting tickets before we consider a move to electronic voting.