|Webdiary - Independent, Ethical, Accountable and Transparent|
Click 'enter' for e-democracy?
You touch the screen and an animated paper clip pops up, bats its eyelashes and says: "You seem to be ready to cast your vote. Would you like some help?"
* * *
Don’t you just love computer and communications technology, despite its flaws (like animated paper clips)? The ability to go ‘online’ is a useful and wonderful thing. Point and click. It connects us to others, we share, we can learn many a useful thing.
For example, did you know that the US Federal Election Commission’s website says:
“[The] paper ballot system was first adopted in the Australian state of Victoria in 1856, and in the remaining Australian states over the next several years. The paper ballot system thereafter became known as the 'Australian ballot'.”
Reminds you how innovative our lot have been. As pointed out on Webdiary last January by Grace Pettigrew in 'We go forward with complete confidence':
Australia is still an innovative place. Terry Murphy, another thoughtful occasional contributor to Webdiary, drew our attention in 'We go forward with complete confidence' to the Victorian Parliament's Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee inquiry into the implications and potential applications of the concept of 'electronic democracy' in the State of Victoria.
The Committee released on its website a number of submissions in response to a Discussion Paper it published in November 2004.
The Victorian Electoral Commission reached the conclusion in its submission that:
The VEC submission also reveals that it intends to "explore the possibility" of developing a prototype computer voting kiosk and using it on a limited scale in selected pre-poll and Election Day voting centres at the next State election.
This important information on a potential change in electoral activities seems to have been overlooked by the local media. "‘Super Voting Centres’ in Melbourne and regional Victoria for 2006" would have made a good headline. Perhaps the editors thought it was not newsworthy because the VEC says it will look to target early electronic ballot casting at small groups of voters with disabilities or poor English language skills. What was surely newsworthy was the next revelation within the VEC submission:
So what about the need for auditable paper trails? The VEC has considered this issue. In its submission to the inquiry the VEC note that voter verification reduces the risk of tampering, and may "also increase public confidence by allowing voters to check the accuracy of the system for themselves."
The VEC notes that voter verification can take two forms – electronic voter verification and voter-verified paper trails.
The VEC submission describes the electronic voting solutions offered by some companies where you can be issued with an encrypted receipt. You can the use this receipt to verify not only that your vote was recorded correctly, but also that it was correctly counted, and you could do this over an Internet connection or telephone after the election. However, the VEC is not keen on this approach because "it leaves open the possibility that large scale tampering may not be detected until some time after the fact, which could seriously undermine voter confidence and necessitate a re-election."
Voter verification by a paper trail is also explored in the VEC submission. After describing the available processes and stating that a paper trail "is likely to increase public confidence substantially", the VEC in all its wisdom lays down a list of practical concerns with printing ballots or receipts:
- Vision-impaired people might have to reveal their ‘secret’ vote; or to use the VEC terms:
"One of the main advantages of introducing electronic voting would be to provide secret voting for voters who cannot currently vote without assistance – a large portion of this group is the vision-impaired, who may find it difficult to visually verify a printed ballot."
- Most Australian voters are apathetic and don’t check their receipts; or again in VEC speak:
"Most voters are likely to be reluctant to thoroughly check the printed ballots, which would defeat the purpose."
- Printers aren’t very reliable machines:
"Printing equipment is one of the most likely piece of electronic equipment to have problems, such as machine malfunction, ink running out, paper running out, paper jamming or not printing part of the text."
- If something goes wrong anyone (not just the visually-impaired) might have to reveal their secret vote:
"If a problem occurs when a ballot is half-printed (e.g. paper jam) and the voter had to call on polling place staff, secrecy could be lost."
- It would take longer to wait for a receipt than fold a metre and a half long ballot paper:
"It would take longer to vote (even if there are no equipment problems) than at present."
- It costs money:
"Printers would add to the cost and labour requirements."
The Centre for Comparative Constitutional Studies, Faculty of Law, at the University of Melbourne also made a submission. Their primary concern was that "SMS voting, telephone voting and internet voting would equate the act of voting for candidates at parliamentary elections with the act of voting for contestants on reality television programmes." Big Brother style.
Now there is an image that would haunt us – imagine Trish Draper’s indignation at the goings on!
The submission of Harry Evans, Clerk of The Senate, is worthy of more deliberation. Reflecting on the advantages of government by a representative assembly, Mr. Evans says that "it fosters deliberation: views are formed and decisions made after exchanges of views on the matters in issue."
Mr Evans asks: "Can there be deliberation in cyberspace?"
Then he answers: "The Discussion Paper refers to the point that debate requires rules to make it orderly and thereby effective. Cyberspace has no rules of debate, and probably cannot have any such rules if the process is open to everyone with a computer. It is like an assembly in which every one can shout at once, and does. The ability to fire off instantaneous verbal broadsides does not encourage listening which is essential to deliberation."
I admire Harry Evans very much, but I think a few Webdiarists and others we can connect with in cyberspace might prove him wrong.
What do you think? We’re here to listen to what you have to say. To participate in your Democracy...go on, click - add a comment.