States to buy 6000 Android tablets for elections

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States to buy 6000 Android tablets for elections
(Image courtesy of the NSW Electoral Commission)

But paper and rulers live on...for now.

Electoral commissions in NSW, Queensland and Victoria have teamed up to purchase nearly 6000 Android tablets ahead of the next round of state and local elections.

Officials carrying the devices will soon be a familiar sight at polling booths, with 5900 tablets to be deployed to help staff answer voter enquiries about if and where they are enrolled, as well as assisting with training in the lead up to election days.

“Some electors forget where they are enrolled, especially those who have moved address,” explained a spokesman for the NSW Electoral Commission (NSWEC).

“With the introduction of tablet devices in the next state general elections, electoral officials in polling venues will be able to service elector enquiries more efficiently and provide electors with better and more accurate information about their enrolment.”

The states have teamed up to achieve economies of scale from their bulk purchase, while at the same time ensuring standard specifications and software compliance across borders. The NSWEC is leading an approach to market currently underway.

The necessary information, including the relevant electoral rolls for each state, will be pre-loaded onto the devices and will primarily be used offline.

Most of the data is publically available, so there are no major security concerns facing the NSWEC. The data  will nonetheless be encrypted before devices are dispatched for use and users will need to authenticate their identity.

The Android tablets will replace an ageing fleet of PDAs that have been used by state electoral officials since 2007. The move to wifi and 3G/4G enabled devices is intended to future-proof the commissions, enabling them to act upon electronic innovations that emerge in time for subsequent elections.

“Tablet devices provide a platform for innovations in polling venues. Participants of the project are looking at other applications to improve service delivery to electors,” the spokesman added.

However the humble ruler and printed electoral roll will survive to see another round of state polls yet. The NSWEC confirmed that unlike its federal counterparts, it has no current plans to move to a fully electronic method for marking off completed voters.

During the federal election in September, the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) trialled the use of laptops to electronically track who had cast their vote and to print any House of Representatives ballot papers on demand across 82 different polling booths.

There is no legislative reason that NSWEC can’t follow down this same path, but the agency's spokesman stressed that reforms of this magnitude needed to be taken with care and consideration.

A special set of up to 400 devices are also likely to be purchased for the use of low-vision voters in Victoria.

The Victorian State Government recently commissioned the development of ‘vVote’ electronic voting technology, which has been adapted to Victorian elections by a team from the UK’s University of Surrey from their ‘Pret-a-Voter’ application.

This technology is due to be trialled as part of the next Victorian state election on 29 November 2014.

The one after that will be NSW in March 2015. With no fixed date, Queenslanders will have to vote before June 2015.

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