NSW to spend $3.6 million on electronic voting rollout

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NSW to spend $3.6 million on electronic voting rollout
The iVote login screen for remote viewing.

iVote to be available to overseas voters.

The NSW Government will spend $3.6 million expanding its electronic voting system iVote for the 2015 state general election.

iVote was first used in a limited capacity in the 2011 state general election. The NSW Government announced earlier this year it would expand the use of the system in the 2015 election, following  hanges to relevant legislation.

It today approached the market for a supplier to build and implement the new expanded voting system, and also revealed the state’s treasury had approved funding of $3.63 million for the project.

Over 46,800 voters used the iVote service to cast their vote in the 2011 election - around 1 percent of total votes taken. The NSW Electoral Commission expects around 100,000 will use iVote during the 2015 state election.

The expansion allows more remote citizens — classified as those who live more than 20km from a polling booth and those out of state on election day, as well as blind and disabled citizens to cast their vote via phone or computer. It will also be available to anyone overseas at the time of the election.

The NSW Electoral Commission also sees the expansion as a way to reduce systemic errors in current voting processes — specifically informality in ballots cast, loss of ballot papers in transit between the voter and counting centre, and transposition and counting errors.

The agency said it would also mean lower costs associated with postal and attendance-based absent voting. 

“Postal voting is becoming increasingly problematic as an effective channel for remote voters. As use of postal services declines in the face of digital alternatives, so will service levels of first class mail,” the department said in tender documents.

“It can be expected that in the not too distant future, reduced postal service delivery schedules will challenge the feasibility of completing postal vote application, ballot distribution and return within election timetables to the point where, for many electors, postal voting ceases to be a viable voting channel.”

Ensuring secure voting

The iVote system is made up of six core components — registration, self-service registration, credential management, core voting, a verification server and an audit system. 

One of the agency’s main concerns with the system expansion is how to keep the data secure.

The core voting element will be hosted in “at least a Tier III data centre”, separate from the NSW Electoral Commission’s own network, the registration system and the audit system.

“These systems will also be managed separately with clear legally enforceable reporting responsibilities for each group’s management,” the agency said. 

“The underlying design objectives for iVote are to ensure voter secrecy and security, and integrity of the registration and voting process. Multiple systems would need to be breached for this to be compromised.”

It said the data needed to identify how someone has voted runs across at least two systems, is "encoded" in both, and therefore a breach could only occur if both systems were breached and the encoding broken. 

The agency also undertakes a verification process following the election which compares verified votes — stored on a separate audit server — with the final vote after decoding. 

“Any vote tampering would result in a discrepancy between the votes held in the audit system and those held in the core voting system.

"This checking process can only be subverted if both systems are compromised in a harmonised way and the tampering was not evident in the logs.”

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