Psephologists are adamant that the uncertainty triggered by last Saturday’s electoral stalemate will not precipitate a move to nation-wide computerised voting, even though the outcome of the count looks like it won’t be known until next week.
According to the ABC, three seats are still in doubt after Saturday’s poll, with Corangamite, Hasluck and Brisbane waiting on postal votes and pre-poll votes to decide an outcome. Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard are sweating on the results of those seats, as they look to negotiate with the independent and Green MPs who will hold the balance of power in the House of Representatives.
But ABC psephologist Antony Green said that the idea of implementing electronic voting for a general election was “fanciful” and that it could only be done by holding a poll over a number of days.
“If people think the sheer complexity of paper voting is huge, then imagine the cost of setting up a nation-wide network for computerised voting,” Green told Crikey. “There is no way you could justify the cost of electronic voting on a single day.”
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Crikey electoral expert Charles Richardson agreed, saying that the sluggish return of electoral results was no reason to move to federal e-voting. He also described the speed of computerised counting as a “great red herring”.
“The reason counting slow is because we need to wait for postal votes,” Richardson told Crikey. “Computerised voting isn’t going to do much about that unless you install computers in every embassy around the world, which is wildly impractical.”
But Antony Green said that one way to cut down in the delay of results could be to computerise postal votes and pre-poll votes. According to the AEC, around 12% of votes cast in the federal election are declaration votes.
“All paper votes cast on the day have been counted, the reason we are waiting is because of absent votes and postal votes,” said Green. “Some of those votes could be counted more quickly. It’s the paperwork that is the issue, verifying declaration votes at both ends.”
Green pointed to recent ACT elections as an example of where electronic voting systems have been used successfully at pre-poll locations. More than 40,000 votes were cast at the 2008 election using the electronic system, accounting for around 20% of all voters.
“If you could computerise voting in polling centres overseas, then you could cut down the paperwork and time taken to count votes,” said Green. “The amount of paperwork involved in voting in London or Kazakhstan is enormous, they have to have enough ballot paper for every senate ballot and every electorate in the country.”
Green also said that pre-poll voting in big town hall centres in Melbourne or Sydney could be made electronic, which would help to reduce any hold-up.
Despite the delay in the results, Charles Richardson said the AEC had done an “excellent job” and that Australia had one of the “greatest systems of electoral administration in the world”.
“If you compare Australia with Britain earlier in the year, they saw a tremendous amount of queuing and delay,” said Richardson. “Not to mention the chaos we have witnessed in the United States in recent times.”