Here’s an idea for streamlining our national elections. Once people have voted, how about we scoop up all the ballot papers, put them into a big sack, and hand it to a group of masked strangers? They take the sack away somewhere — somewhere secret, so no-one can interfere with them — and some time later they return and just tell us who won. I reckon it’d be cheaper and a lot less trouble for everyone than all this slow, manual counting in front of scrutineers, right? No? Don’t like it? Well, boys and girls, given that the Australian government is refusing to show us the source code for the Australian Electoral Commissions’s EasyCount software, that’s pretty much exactly how your votes for the Senate are being counted right now. Your Senate votes, the ones where you’ve carefully specified your preferences for dozens of candidates, go into the black box of EasyCount, magic happens, and out pops the result.
On the say-so of EasyCount’s secret source, 360,000 lines of Visual Basic, some candidates get to sit on the red leather seats of the Senate chamber and make the nation’s laws for the next six years, and all of the other candidates miss out.
The government’s reasoning, if you can call it that, is contained in a letter (PDF) tabled by the Special Minister For State, Senator Michael Ronaldson, whose biography indicates that he was a provincial lawyer before climbing the political ladder from local councillor to local MP to Senate.
“I am advised that publication of the software could leave the voting system open to hacking or manipulation,” Ronaldson wrote. “In addition, I am advised that the AEC classifies the relevant software as commercial-in-confidence as it also underpins the industrial and fee-for-service election counting systems.”
That’s a worry.