Is Australia ready for eVoting?

When the Australian Government’s census website suffered a denial-of-service attack in August 2016, the incident threatened to subject any future online government service to public distrust.

Yet a survey commissioned by Australia Post just a few weeks later found that 73 per cent of Australians are keen for an online voting system with 26 per cent expecting to be able to cast their votes online by the 2019 federal election . Almost half (47 per cent) are surprised that eVoting isn’t already available.

We’re frustrated by queues and delayed results

One thousand eligible Australian voters were asked about their experience voting in the July 2016 federal election. While they generally trust the current paper ballot system to provide results, there are complaints about the time it takes to vote with 47 per cent rating the queuing time as ‘poor’ and more than 20 per cent saying they waited for over 20 minutes.

Almost half of voters are also dissatisfied with how long it took to declare a result. Australians are also finding it less convenient to get to a polling booth on election day. 17 per cent chose to vote early at an early voting centre while 14 per cent opted for postal voting. Younger professionals are more likely to vote early, and older professionals and retirees make up the largest proportion of postal voters.

We want to cast our vote online at home, or at an electronic polling booth

eVoting can be made available in various forms, so the survey asked voters whether they would be more likely to vote using a touch screen in a polling booth or on their own device at home.

Over 75 per cent – which included 80 per cent of younger voters - said they would be likely to use either method. There was a slight preference for using a touch screen in a polling booth.

Those who chose touch screen as their preference cited ‘speed of result’ as their main reason, followed by ‘quicker to vote’ and ‘less environmental impact’.

Those who stated a preference for voting on their own device emphasised the flexibility of choosing when and where they voted. 86 per cent of older professionals, 87 per cent of younger families and 81 per cent of younger professionals said they’d vote using their own device.

One enthusiastic respondent said, “It would be an awesome idea! It's so much easier to vote online because voting with young children, illness, disability, or anything that would prevent you from voting wouldn't matter.”

The vast majority of voters believe a touch screen would also provide a quicker result.

So who wants to vote online?

Young people (aged 18-25) and older professionals (over 40 with an income over $150,000) are the most in favour of eVoting.

Retirees are less likely to expect it would be available in the near future. However, two-thirds of retirees said they would still be likely to use either a touch screen in a polling booth or a device at home.

In general, eVoters are more likely to be younger, earning a higher income, in full-time employment or studying, and living in a major city.

We still want the choice of a paper ballot

However, we’re still not ready to get rid of paper ballots entirely. Almost three-quarters of those surveyed said voters should still have the choice to vote in-person. Also stay-at-home parents are more likely to prefer traditional voting methods, and only 21 per cent of retirees are comfortable with eVoting being their only option.

This is not surprising as research also suggests that when it comes to government services, Australians still expect a choice of in-person and digital touchpoints.

Among those who said they probably or definitely would not use eVoting, 28 per cent cited security concerns (including fear of cyber attack) as the main issue. 23 per cent said they didn’t trust their details would be kept private and 19 per cent have concerns about the anonymity of their vote.

The census experience was also cited as evidence that the government’s system issues would need to be addressed.

“The recent census showed that the knowledge isn't there to protect the system, and things will be underestimated again,” said a traditional voter.

We could save more than time

Consumer preferences are clearly in favour of eVoting, as long as traditional voting options remain. But there are other benefits worth considering.

Australia Post’s analysis indicates that if elections are conducted completely online, there is potential to save tens of millions of dollars per year. This includes local, state and federal level elections, and both polling and electronic counting.

Other benefits of eVoting include quicker and potentially more accurate election results, and the elimination of human error or ‘misplaced’ ballots.

The fact that a significant majority of Australians want and expect eVoting indicates that the journey of change may not be as challenging as the census experience would have us believe.

However, it’s also clear that a great deal of work still needs to be done to create the capabilities and infrastructure required for a secure, anonymous and reliable eVoting platform.

To find out more about our research into eVoting, read our insights paperA new way to have our say: Australia's roadmap to eVoting.

This article is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to be specific advice.