So, we got to enjoy the NSW 2015 elections on the weekend. I don’t know about you but I can think of better ways to spend a beautiful Saturday morning than queuing to cast my vote. It got me wondering why we aren’t doing it electronically, from our preferred device and at a time of our choosing. Yes, the polling booths were only open from 8am to 6pm so I guess that’s an added inconvenience for those working Saturdays.
“If voting made any difference they wouldn’t let us do it.” – Mark Twain
It turns out that we do have an iVote system; introduced for the State General Election back in 2011 but this is reserved for people with certain disabilities, those that will be overseas and those who’s nearest polling station is more than 20km away. It is not clear why it cannot be made more widely available if it works effectively and securely for those cohorts.
One of the primary areas of concern with electronic voting is the robustness of the independent identity verification. However, this seems somewhat odd because banks have been managing that issue for some time. Moreover, voting would seem an obvious candidate to be linked into the Document Verification Service (DVS) initiative that is part of the Governments National Identity Security Strategy. A number of DVS Gateway providers have already been approved so there should not be much holding us back from piggybacking on this service.
There is, apparently, also some concern that a person might not be able to act independently in their home environment but, to me, this seems like an even bigger reason to allow votes to be cast through connected mobile devices. In fact, such devices offer an obvious channel for public key encryption allowing both identity and privacy safeguards to be readily implemented.
Some weeks prior to the election, the ABC news website re-activated their award-winning Vote Compass on-line questionnaire. This is really quite an interesting tool because it allows you to indicate your position wrt a number of the key issues and then it plots your viewpoint against that of the major parties using two axes – socially progressive or conservative and economic right or left. The level of agreement with the various parties is shown both by proximity and also as a percentage. To allow further refinement you can weight certain themes (eg Environment) according to how important they are to you and re-plot your weighted position. There are also other tools to allow a deep-dive comparison across key themes or even on a question-by-question basis.
To me, this demonstrates an interesting way in which voting could be carried out. I believe it would be very instructive if a person’s vote emerged as a result of this kind of questioning rather than a simple ‘number in a box’ approach. Not only would it encourage a more considered vote, it could also be particularly enlightening to discover whether or not the assumed choice of preferred party actually reflects one’s independent viewpoint. The tools are already there for the review and edit cycle so all it really needs is the ID-check at login and a Submit button to register your vote.
With a system like this in place, an informed vote could be acquired in a matter of minutes and would alleviate the need to travel, queue and wrestle with a ballot paper that is considerably larger than the booth made available for it’s annotation.
“Vote for the man who promises least: he’ll be the least disappointing.” – Bernard M. Baruch