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Turnbull floats e-vote, compulsory ID

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Incoming communications minister Malcolm Turnbull has offered up his first post-election policy thought-bubble, suggesting that Australia should adopt electronic voting kiosks and compulsory identification for voters.

Speaking to ABC TV, Turnbull said the high level of informal (that is, invalid or incorrectly-cast) votes is so high as to demand electoral reform to reduce the kinds of errors that invalidate votes.

“About six percent of Australians voted informally,” Turnbull told the ABC, which he said meant around 670,000 Australians' votes were discarded rather than being counted.

That informal vote included people who simply marked their House of Representatives ballot paper with a “1” (Australia's preferential voting system requires all numbers to be marked for national lower-house elections), or “because they filled in the other boxes incorrectly”.

A solution, he said, would be to introduce electronic voting at the polling place at kiosks which would be able to check the validity of a vote before accepting it. That way, he said, a user would be alerted to an informal vote before it's been cast.

The minister also raised economic arguments in favour of introducing electronic voting, saying “One of our priorities as a new government is to rapidly progress the efficient use of technology to make government more cost-effective, and to do a better job for citizens, and also to enable Australian business and households more productive.”

The previous 2010 election cost $AU161 million, according to the Australian Electoral Commission, and at $AU7.68 per vote cast (2010 dollars) was cheaper than in 2007 ($AU9.05 per vote cast).

The Register asked an advisor to the communications minister for a source for this high level of invalid ballots, and was referred to the Australian Electoral Commission.* The CSV download "Informal Votes By Division" shows a high informal vote in the House of Representatives, currently at 4.92 percent averaged nationwide, but if informal votes are averaged by division, that rises to 5.83 percent.

*The original text, which read: "As is clear hereMr Turnbull's memory may have been at fault. With nine millions votes counted, the national total is not 670,000 votes, but around 383,000, or 3.85 percent of the vote" referred to the Senate. The Register accepts that this is in error.

The Register also notes that the levels of informal voting in the Senate fell in three states since 2010: Western Australia, Queensland, and the Australian Capital Territory. In the House of Representatives, informal votes fell in Queensland, South Australia, the ACT and the Northern Territory.

On the matter of voter identification, Turnbull also appeared to suggest that citizens be required to produce identification before being permitted to cast a ballot. “The current system is fraught with errors – there are a large number of people who vote fraudulently,” he said. “Most of them do so honestly … they are casting a vote for a friend who is away or sick.

“We considerably over-estimate the security of the current paper voting system, and we over-estimate the insecurity of the electronic voting system,” he added.

The Register contacted noted psephologist, Antony Green of the ABC, about the level of fraudulent ballots in the Australian system. Green told us that the numbers are “quite small”. He said the Australian Electoral Commission's estimate for the total number of fraudulent ballots in the 2010 election was 1,400 out of a total 14 million votes cast.

“That would not have changed any result in the country”, Green said.

Any candidate that suspects electoral fraud is able to seek a determination by the High Court, which is responsible for disputed returns at the national level. Since 1983, no election result has ever been overturned due to proven fraud.

The interview can be seen here. ®

Update: As well as correcting an error of fact regarding informal voting levels, Malcolm Turnbull's office requested The Register to remove the inference that Turnbull wants voters to identify themselves to vote, on the basis that it was “taken out of context”. To provide the full context, here is more of the discussion. The presenter asked upon which basis Turnbull believes voter fraud is common:

“I can just say to you, it is based on my anecdotal experience, but when I was campaigning in 2004 … I was out on the street pretty much every day talking people. Once the election was called, the number of people who told me they would get someone else to vote for [them*] – the first time I was shocked, the second time I was shocked, the third time I started to think my god, I'd been living in a bit of a bubble here. People don't seem to be taking the provisions of the Commonwealth Electoral Act as seriously as they should.”

(*Malcolm Turnbull actually said “me” rather than “them” at this point, but his intent is clear.)

“The point is, you don't have to show any ID, and as I say, the system is much more vulnerable than we think.” (Emphasis added).

The Register does not believe the context given here constrains Malcolm Turnbull's remarks to electronic voting. If Malcolm Turnbull does not feel there is a need for voters to better identify themselves when voting, The Register does not understand why the issue needed to be raised with the national broadcaster. ®

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