For a number of Western Australians, the March 2017 state election will mark the first time they have been able to lodge a secret vote, thanks to the adoption of an online ballot system by the WA Electoral Commission.
The WAEC has signed up to use the iVote software pioneered in early 2015 by NSW, which will allow people with low literacy skills, a sight impairment, or another disability preventing them from getting to a polling booth, to cast a ballot from home for the first time.
“Instead of asking someone else to fill out ballot papers for them, these electors will be able to vote via the internet or using a touchtone telephone,” WA electoral commissioner David Kerslake said.
However the chosen software hasn’t been free of controversy.
Just days before the March 2015 NSW state election, a pair of security researchers outed a flaw in iVote that could allow an attacker to intercept a voter’s web traffic.
In the months and years since the iVote controversy hit, the NSW electoral commission has come out on the front foot to defend the technology and the use of online voting to restore electoral independence to physically or vision impaired voters.
It has partnered with CSC to patch flaws in the software, and says the publicity the researchers generated actually boosted its use - iVote was used by 286,000 voters in the March 2015 poll.
Former NSWEC CIO Ian Brightwell argued that online voting isn’t perfectly secure, but neither is lodging a physical ballot.
“The reality is that once you stick that piece of paper in a ballot box or an envelope, you haven’t got a clue what goes on after that,” he said.
WA internet voting is now available of eligible voters to register and use, up until polling day on 11 March.
The WAEC said its version of iVote features a number of “recently developed enhancements” to the product that was used in NSW in 2015.
It has called the system “extremely safe and secure” and said all votes lodged would be fully encrypted until it is decrypted by a select group of election officials, printed, and entered into the normal paper-based tallying process as an anonymous ballot.
Users will even have the option of registering and voting from their smartphone.
And the commission - which governs polls in Australia’s most geographically vast state - has already flagged future plans to expand online eligibility to voters in remote areas and those who are overseas at the time ballots are cast, if the parliament amends voting legislation.