by Hamish Barwick

NSW Electoral Commission CIO says iVote system will ensure counting accuracy

May 20, 20143 mins
Data CenterGovernmentPrivacy

E-voting will offer voters in NSW “greater electoral integrity” over paper as the iVote system is more accurate, said NSW Electoral Commission (NSWEC) CIO Ian Brightwell.

Speaking at the AusCERT security conference on the Gold Coast, Brightwell told delegates that election day is “only the beginning” for the Commission.

“In the case of NSWEC, we are handling ballot papers and counting them a month after election day. In that time, those papers are moved and sorted many times. The reality is that it’s very difficult to ensure that all the ballot papers are in the right piles and counted correctly,” he said.

“The fact is that we would never be able to count 4.5 million [physical] ballot papers perfectly,” he told delegates.

“Using the new version of iVote, voters can verify their vote as captured by the system. That’s a feature we can’t do with the current paper ballot. The voter can also check the counted vote once it is decrypted.”

NSW voters can vote by using their smartphone, tablet or PC.

Brightwell added that the NSWEC will be releasing the raw data on its website so that voters can check the counting process.

In addition, he said that iVote will offer more NSW voters who are living overseas a chance to have their say.

“When we send postal votes overseas, about 60 per cent don’t come back. When we first used iVote at the 2011 NSW state elections, our experience was that about 8 per cent [of overseas votes] weren’t returned.”

Brightwell added that NSWEC discovered about 20,000 NSW people living overseas who were eligible to vote but couldn’t get a paper vote in within the two week voting period.

“What’s the chance finding an address where you can have the postal vote sent to and get it [voting papers] sent back within the two week period?” he said.

When e-voting was first conducted during the 2011 NSW state elections, the system took votes from 46,864 electors.

This time around, Brightwell is expecting approximately 250,000 NSW voters to utilise e-voting.

He added that iVote is designed to provide facilities to people who are blind or disabled, can’t get to a polling booth because they live remotely or are overseas.

Brightwell also acknowledged that there some concerns about e-voting.

“If you listen to certain speakers at AusCERT, you will walk away with the view that every system can be broken and that you shouldn’t do things that are dangerous on the Internet. That is not an unreasonable view, but what we have done is taken the view [that e-voting] is a comparative risk,” he said.

For example, the NSW voting commissioners are “very mindful” that they have to provide voting facilities to people who would be fined if they don’t vote, he said.

“Quite a bit of thought has gone into iVote to ensure that only people with the right reason for accessing information can access it.”

NSWEC is working with voting provider Scytl to improve the use of cryptography. It will also incorporate a verification system in which encrypted votes are sent to both NSWEC and an independent auditor, allowing two sets of data to be compared to ensure votes have not been tampered with.

Hamish Barwick attended the AusCERT conference as a guest of AusCERT.

Follow Hamish Barwick on Twitter: @HamishBarwick

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