Turnbull, Shorten back electronic voting push

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Turnbull, Shorten back electronic voting push

Is Australia ready to do away with the box and pencil?

Australia's parliamentarians and voting authorities will cast fresh eyes on the issue of electronic voting, as both the Prime Minister and opposition leader shift their political weight behind a 21st Century approach to elections.

The concept of electronic voting - whether it's fully online or via computers installed at polling stations - has been dismissed by MPs in the past as too risky in the age of increasingly sophisticated cyber attacks.

But in the wake of a frustrating eight day wait for a result from the latest national poll, Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten have both said they will consider electronic options.

In his concession speech on Sunday, opposition leader Shorten said he will write to the Prime Minister urging a bipartisan push towards electronic voting.

"We are a grown up democracy - it shouldn't be taking eight days to find out who has won and who has lost [an election]," he said.

“I think that we should, in a bipartisan fashion set the groundwork for electronic voting.

“I think we should be able to find out who won and who lost in a quicker time than we have seen.”

Asked whether he backed the suggestion, Turnbull said "the answer to your question is yes, but there’s a lot more to look at as well".

He said electronic polls have "been a passion of mine, or an interest of mine for a long time" directing particular praise to the NSW electoral commission's efforts in the space.

As shadow communications minister in the Abbott opposition, Turnbull advocated for electronic voting in the aftermath of the 2013 election, claiming it could cut the rate of informal votes and unintentional mistakes.

But electronic voting on a national scale has had a chequered run globally.

Estonia is the only country in the world to have embraced fully online electronic voting, where eligible voters can cast a ballot via the web, without having to attend a polling booth in person. The eastern European country is sticking to its system despite studies that suggest it is vulnerable to attack or manipulation, especially from state-based actors with an interest in influencing the outcome of elections (pdf).

In the lead up to its 2004 election, Ireland blew roughly A$75 million on electronic voting machines installed at polling places, but pulled the plug on the scheme before it went live after a team of computer scientists uncovered serious vulnerabilities in the system.

In the US, where votes have been cast via machines at polling stations for decades, states are struggling with an ageing fleet of computers that are increasingly vulnerable to electronic attack, but have no money set aside to replace what in many cases are 10-15 year-old devices.

The Australian Capital Territory is the only local jurisdiction in Australia to offer electronic voting to general electors, via standard PCs located at polling booths, running an open source, Linux-based voting system.

While the ACT electoral commission says this, paired with optical character recognition-enabled counting, significantly speeds up the processing of generating a result, it is still is required by law to wait for postal votes to come in.

Back in 2014 the federal parliament’s electoral matters committee cited all these cases when they dismissed the prospect of electronic voting at a Commonwealth level, claiming it just couldn’t be satisfied the security risks were worth it.

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