It took a month but we got there. Counting for the House of Reps has finished and the last seat, Herbert in north Queensland, has finally been decided. But keyboard critics are already pouncing. Not on Labor or the LNP but on the very system itself. Here we are in 2016, they say, 20 years after the internet entered our lives, and we’re still voting with pencil and paper. We wait for weeks for something a machine could do in seconds. Online voting could do away with postal and absentee votes and the lost ballots that forced a re-run of the 2013 West Australian Senate poll could be avoided. If we can enrol to vote, study and transfer money electronically, surely we can trust online ballots? No, we can’t.
For online oracles fearful of the humble HB pencil, I remind them that a state or federal election – which will shape our lives for the next three or four years – is not a reality show. We’re deciding how our taxes are spent, not who next leaves the Big Brother house. Politics is not a Pokemon game.
As the hack of the US Democratic Party’s emails indicates, the malicious and maleficent will always find a way to invade, undermine and corrupt any electronic system. And a fear of corruption is as corrosive as corruption itself. If we cannot trust the machinery of democracy, we have no democracy.
And, for two reasons, voters cannot trust online voting. First, how can we guarantee the integrity of the vote count and protect it from hackers adding or subtracting from tallies? Second, how can we protect voters’ anonymity? Cyber footprints mean it’s possible for voters to leave an eternal record of their private political choices. So much for the secret ballot that we so proudly pioneered.