NSW dumps iVote system until after 2023 state election

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NSW dumps iVote system until after 2023 state election

Runs out of time to confidently deploy updated system.

NSW’s troubled online voting system iVote will not be used at the 2023 state election, with the electoral commissioner blaming a lack of confidence in a planned new version for the decision.

The move comes two months after the NSW Electoral Commission temporarily shelved iVote for state and local government by-elections to perform “extensive reconfigurations and testing”.

The fixes were deemed necessary following a glitch that prevented iVote users from casting votes during recent local government elections, throwing the results of at least three ballots into doubt.

When making its initial announcement, the NSWEC said funding constraints meant that it could not apply the fixes in time for the by-elections, while also prepping iVote for the state election.

But on Wednesday, the commission went one step further, ruling out any use of iVote for the state general election in March 2023, as well as for any by-elections between July 2022 and March 2023.

The NSWEC said that with the current version of iVote to be phased out sometime between 2022 and 2023, it isn't possible to have an updated system in place before the state election.

“The short runway for configuring and testing a new version before March 2023 means the electoral commissioner cannot be confident an updated system... will be ready in time,” it said.

“The electoral commissioner has determined, therefore, not to use iVote at the March 25 [2023] election or at any intervening by-elections between July 1 2022 and March 25 2023.”

NSWEC said that the decision not to use iVote has “not been driven by any concerns about cyber security matters in previous elections”.

“The electoral commissioner is announcing his decision now so that all potential election participants are made aware as early as possible of the arrangements,” the commission added.

NSWEC said it would now work with representatives of iVote’s core users, including blind or vision impaired voters, to “explore other ways to support their participation in the election”.

“In particular, the electoral commissioner will be recommending to the NSW government that ordinary telephone voting still be made available for blind and low vision electors,” it said.

“This option has been delivered successfully at the recent four state by-elections and at two local government by-elections under Covid-19 special temporary arrangements.”

But according to Vision Australia, telephone voting is not a like-for-like replacement as it relies on the intervention of others.

Blind and vision impaired voters were the initial cohort of users for which iVote was introduced in 2011, but a series of legislative changes since then has expanded use of the system to others.

In 2017, for instance, the Electoral Act 2017 changed the eligibility criteria for the use of iVote to include registered early voters and silent electors.

The electoral commissioner has also recommended a “targeted review before internet voting be considered for use at future elections”, citing problems during the 2021 local government elections.

“The review would consider the framework that governs internet voting, in consultation with the NSW government, to confirm if it remains appropriate for the environment in which it operates and to identity any opportunities for improvement,” NSWEC said.

Despite the decision, NSWEC said it remains a “strong supporter of innovation in election delivery”, pointing to a current collaboration with Service NSW on an app for election information.

“The Electoral Commission looks forward to continuing discussions on the future of internet voting, as well as exploring other ways to maintain trust in our democratic process by enriching citizen engagement with elections through technology,” it added.

Last month, NSWEC secured $4.8 million from a $22 million business case to begin the most urgent cyber upgrades to its systems after repeated public calls for funding.

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