Federal

Sep 12, 2013

Say no to e-voting: defending the pencils of democracy

Electronic voting is clumsy, frustrating and open to manipulation and fraud. We'll take our trusty old pencils, thanks.

Stilgherrian — Technology writer and broadcaster

Stilgherrian

Technology writer and broadcaster

Another election is winding up, so it’s time for the compulsory round of people complaining that the system is flawed and that technology would magically fix some of the problems.

28 comments

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28 thoughts on “Say no to e-voting: defending the pencils of democracy

  1. zut alors

    Sensible points made in this piece by Stilgherrian.

    Turnbull wrongly assumes –
    a) all Australians are literate
    b) all Australians are computer literate

    I strongly support the pencils.

  2. Amanda Guildford

    Dear Skilgherrian Technology Writer,
    Whilst I don’t disagree with the points you have made in relation to electronic voting, and acknowledge the problems and existing flaws in those systems already implemented (unsuccessfully), I don’t agree that we should just stop there, halt progress, remain stuck in the pencil and paper age. Surely we can work towards a time when there is a system that is safe, reliable and protected against interference? Your comment “Anyone with working eyesight and who can read and count can scrutineer the process” is reason enough, for vision impaired people, to look forward to an electronic system of voting. While the telephone system, used this year with much success, is a vast improvement upon previous systems whereby a stranger accompanied me to the ballot box, writing down my choices for me, it nonetheless involves someone else recording my vote. Faceless, yes; confidential, yes – but what a shout for independence and even a little self-esteem when I can actually record my vote myself via an electronic voting system – one without the problems you have identified.
    Amanda Guildford
    Solicitor

  3. paddy

    Well said Stilgherrian.
    Pencil and paper have proven remarkably robust.
    Why change an unbroken system?

  4. nullifidian

    Indeed. In the US, electronic voting machines are proprietary and the code is the property of the manufacturer. It would be a simple matter to bury code that would activate on election day, and wipe this code after the election. In fact, one such manager declared that he hoped that his machines would help to deliver a victory for Bush in Ohio.

  5. Limited News

    Thanks for a great article. Although I do believe electronic voting would reduce informal votes slightly.

    The Coalition will probably promote unauditable electronic voting. Any party which objects will be told to advocate its supporters cast paper votes instead. But then the Coalition’s informal vote will be lower, giving them a percent or two advantage.

    Maybe we should consider electronically-assisted voting that prints the ballot out for you. But maybe it isn’t worth the trouble.

  6. Lawrence Martin

    Completely agree. Nothing better than hardcopy — you can always go back and check it; pencil & paper pretty much infallible technology.

  7. form1planet

    But would people really be more likely to understand how to fix their votes because the message would be on a computer screen rather than written on the ballot paper itself?

    Of course they would! The “computer screen” would be part of a UI that would actively encourage correct sequential numbering, and would give direct feedback on problems. To suggest that this would be no more helpful than the generic instructions on the ballot paper is disingenuous at best.

  8. Shaniq'ua Shardonn'ay

    I agree completely. As someone who is IT literate I am very opposed to electronic voting. The amount of money involved to make it hack proof is enough to dissuade me. Never mind the cost to get all these ‘closed networks’ running all around Australia. As the nice lady in the bank said to me yesterday “IT people never want to use Internet Banking”. Nup, we don’t.

  9. Shaniq'ua Shardonn'ay

    BTW – the numbering problem on the senate ballot paper could be easily fixed by using numbering above the line. Or perhaps numbering only a certain amount below the line – top 10 perhaps.

  10. Keith Thomas

    Pencil is fine by me. The worry-worts can take a ballpoint or a Texta in and use that – it won’t be informal.

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