Australian Information Industries Association*: you're not the future of democracy, so please shut up

Flawed arguments and right-wing tropes don't make the case for Internet voting

Woman thumbs down, image via Shutterstock

Australia's close-run federal election has brought out the tech sector in force, seeking government rent so it can appropriate the country's democracy.

It's been trying – with very limited success – since the 1990s, but on the principle that “practice makes perfect”, the same arguments have been rolled out again: electronic voting will be faster, more convenience, more secure, and cheaper.

Hence we have this media release from the Internet Industry Association Australian Information Industry Association*.

Before I address the errors in the IIA's release, I'd best place on record: I have long opposed electronic voting, because I believe it excludes citizens from taking part in the scrutiny of votes. Today, nearly any Australian can, if they wish, see how the sausage is made, help the election happen, and confirm for themselves that the count is conducted fairly – and tens of thousands do just that.

If the election is delegated to software, an important part of democracy is either hidden from scrutiny (because the software is a commercial secret); or at best delegated to a technically-literate elite able to examine it.

Such considerations don't occur to industry lobbies like the IIA. Instead, the release makes a string of claims that just don't stand up.

Faster

The AIIA: “If we had it in place today, we’d already have certainty regarding the results of the federal election. Instead, we are facing the possibility of up to a month before the outcome is known”.

This is only true if all votes were conducted electronically. Such a rollout won't happen – even if Australia decided to upend its electoral system, electronic voting will live alongside pencil-and-paper for some time to come. The paper votes will still have to be counted.

Cheaper

The AIIA: “Electronic voting not only saved time but could also potentially deliver significant cost savings”.

There's no evidence for this – and there is evidence for the opposite.

Our electoral system is surprisingly cheap. In this Parliamentary Library document, the per-elector cost of the 2007 election was AU$8.36.

The NSW state government's “highly successful” iVote system, on the other hand, costs $74 per vote in 2011.

Trust

The AIIA: “Under today’s archaic system, votes can still be miscounted, misread, or even simply misplaced. And on the issue of proof of identity, when was the last time you had to show ID at the ballot box?”

First, the loss / miscount / misplace issue: Australia has developed pretty robust practices over the hundred-plus years of its “archaic” system.

Hardly any results have ever been overturned in the Court of Disputed Returns, for example; and each election, the AEC conducts a review to check the integrity of the process.

(And yes: the AEC did, in the 2013 election, have a monumental snafu, misplacing so many votes that the Western Australian Senate vote had to be repeated).

On the issue of proof of identity: would Australians submit to a universal ID card just to get to vote over the Internet, to satisfy an old – and inaccurate – right-wing trope about voter fraud? I think not. ®

Correction: The author incorrectly identified the organisation as the Internet Industry Association instead of the Australian Information Industry Association, for which I apologise. ®


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