Implications of Changes to Voting Channels in Australia
The report for this project is available here.
This report was prompted by the increasing numbers of voters in Australia who are ‘convenience voting’ in one way or another. This trend presents challenges for other stakeholders in elections, including electoral commissions and their workers, political parties and candidates. We focused on these stakeholders, examining the challenges raised by the range of voting channels now available in Western Australia and New South Wales elections. Research for the report included original online surveys, interviews and observations.
The online surveys showed that election workers tended to view voter convenience as less important than other criteria that centre on electoral integrity. The interview research showed that political parties and candidates accept voter convenience when it does not hinder them from effectively communicating with voters.
The online surveys suggest that few election workers experienced or observed problems carrying out their assigned tasks across a range of voting channels. The problems that did occur were generally not considered to be serious and were mostly dealt with successfully. On this evidence, the electoral commissions are handling the current mix of voting channels successfully.
The growing demand for flexible voting seems likely to continue. No single voting channel is likely to replace ordinary voting on election day as the new dominant form of voting. Instead, for the foreseeable future, different voters will want to use different voting channels.
Australian lawmakers, electoral commissions and election candidates all face continuing challenges to meet reasonable expectations among citizens that voting will be made convenient and easily accessible. One way of facilitating this would be to open access to the four most common voting channels—ordinary voting on election day, pre-poll voting, postal voting and remote electronic voting—to anyone who wants to use them. Citizens would then be free to access the ballot in the ways most suited to their needs.
Rapidly increasing numbers of Australians are voting early, via mail or electronically. We need to know more that we do about the implications of this trend for the key actors in elections. The research questions for this project are:
- What challenges and opportunities does this trend present for Australian electoral commissions, election contestants and voters?
- How prepared are these various actors for the challenges and opportunities of different forms of voting?
- What could be done better to prepare these actors for these challenges and opportunities?
The project will adopt three main research methods:
- Audits of electronic and paper-based voting channels against common criteria, using electoral commission data and records.
- Interviews with Australian electoral commission staff, party officials and candidates.
- Analysis of existing voter survey data and new surveys of voters.
The project will gather new data from three elections with a range of voting channels:
- The Western Australian state election, due in 11 March 2017, which is likely to involve remote electronic voting alongside early, postal and ordinary voting for the first time in that state.
- Two NSW state by-elections likely to be held in November 2016. These by-elections will use the iVote® system of remote electronic voting along with early, postal and ordinary voting.
- A sample of NSW local government elections in September 2016, in which voting channels will be restricted to postal voting and ordinary voting.
The multi-disciplinary project team conducting the research includes three political scientists (Rodney Smith and Stephen Mills from the University of Sydney, and Martin Drum from the University of Notre Dame, Western Australia), five computer scientists (Annabelle McIver from Macquarie University, Carroll Morgan, Richard Buckland and Roland Wen from the University of New South Wales, and Ian Brightwell, who previously worked for the NSW Electoral Commission) and two electoral commission officials (Mark Radcliffe from the NSW Electoral Commission and Justin Harbord from the Western Australian Electoral Commission).