WA trials voting app for blind and vision impaired

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WA trials voting app for blind and vision impaired
Source: WA Electoral Commission

Takes first step towards internet voting.

Blind and vision impaired Western Australian voters were able to vote independently for the first time in some electorates during Saturday’s state election, thanks to an in-house application being trialled by the WA Electoral Commission.

The Vote Assist electronic voting system asked voters to listen to a synthetic voice and cast their vote for both the Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council, using a numeric keypad.

Previously, blind or vision impaired voters were reliant on a carer, friend or relative to assist them when voting, making voting in secret impossible.

WA Electoral Commission senior project coordinator Naomi May said the Vote Assist system was developed in-house over a period of 18 months.

“There’s been some people who refused to vote because they didn’t have an independent vote, they had to rely on friends.

“The whole idea of the system is you can go from start to finish without any need for assistance,” May said.

The Windows-based application works with a Microsoft SQL database, with read for text sound files created for each individual voter.

Because Western Australian voting law still requires each vote to be cast on paper, the system printed a ballot paper for blind voters that was identical to those cast by other voters.

“Ultimately we hope to have internet voting, however the legislation doesn’t currently allow for it,” said WA Electoral Commission IT manager Desmond Chenik.

“The feedback we’ve had so far makes me think we will put it out in a much wider area next time.”

May said the Electoral Commission would do further analysis before determining how it would proceed.

The Victorian Electoral Commission is considering internet voting but so far the Victorian Electoral Act doesn’t allow for it. New South Wales passed legislation to allow for electronic voting in 2010, and its internet voting trial in 2011 was used by more than 46,000 voters.

Chenik said the work done as part of Vote Assist could be used as part of any broader electronic voting projects in the state.

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