back to article Pencil manufacturers rejoice: Oz government doesn't like e-voting

An Australian parliamentary committee has nixed the idea of internet voting for federal elections Down Under, for now. The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters has delivered its report into the 2016 federal election, and in it, the body decided that there are plenty of ways technology can help elections – but ditching …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    With our system, the choice is between two virtually identical flavours of bland incompetence, so real election / rigged election / who really cares.

    1. sanmigueelbeer

      who really cares

      who really cares

      Would you if, say, Clive Palmer returns?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      You should be rejoicing in the safe mundanity of it. You really, really don't want rigged elections involving dangerous politicians with traitorous loyalties.

    3. Commswonk

      With our system, the choice is between two virtually identical flavours of bland incompetence..

      I fail to see how the adjective "bland" belongs in the above, unless of course you are referring to somewhere other than the UK.

      And I have tried... really hard.

  2. Adam 1

    As someone who strongly advocated against the government's mathematically illiterate magic fairy unbreakable but yet somehow still possible to assist in breaking when receiving a magical signed order, can I express relief that at least on this proposal they managed to see what a stupid idea it is.

  3. the Jim bloke

    The Government knows it will be secure

    - because they will be watching through the compulsory backdoor

    / Everyone else knows its security is a joke - because of the compulsory backdoor....

  4. Potemkine! Silver badge

    At last...

    ... common sense wins. It happens so few times, it has to be noticed!

  5. wolfetone Silver badge

    Who uses a pencil to cast their vote? Use a pen!!!! You can't rub out a pen.

    Although saying that, I know some pedantic commentard is going to prove to me you can.

    1. Mongrel

      Use a pen!!!!

      Apparently they were worried about invisible ink

      "Although saying that, I know some pedantic commentard is going to prove to me you can."

      First result when I searched for 'Erasable Pens'

      1. Roq D. Kasba

        Re: Use a pen!!!!

        That Tom Scott video ought to be a public information film.

    2. John Robson Silver badge

      You can rub out a pencil, but you can still see where the mark was made.

      Who is going to rub out a pencil mark anyway - the advantage of the paper system is that the paper is put in a sealed box, watched by multiple interested parties. Then the box is transported (still watched) to a counting location where it is unsealed (watched) and the ballots counted (still being watched).

      We've had a long time, and much practise at this kind of thing, and many attacks have been tried... they have countermeasures in place...

      1. cdegroot

        You mention the most important thing here a couple of times, but let me stress it:


        Observability by ordinary citizens is the key advantage of paper voting. It maintains trust, and maximizes the number of eyeballs verifying the ballot. I volunteered at polling stations and always had huge respect for the people who came in around closing, sat down, and just observed us counting votes. That is democracy in action - for everybody, by everybody, and people who think that this should be taken away and replaced by machines are not to be trusted. Nothing is gained, and a lot is lost.

      2. vtcodger Silver badge

        Exactly. Paper ballots are auditable (i.e. recountable). It is VERY difficult to devise a paper-free scheme that can be sorted out after the vote if (i.e. when) something goes wrong with the vote tallying.

        Fortunately for those elsewhere, we here in the US have tried the experiment of embracing electronic voting without really thinking through the consequences. The bottom line: Generally electronic voting works, but there are lots of ways it can fail. And once it fails it can be really difficult to sort things out. If they can be sorted out.

        What does seem to work reasonably well is paper ballots that are machine read and tallied electronically. If the tallying process breaks down somehow or questions arise about the integrity of the count, the ballots can be counted by hand

    3. katrinab Silver badge

      You use a pencil because apparently it is harder to completely remove all traces of a pencil than a pen.

    4. Adam 1

      > Who uses a pencil to cast their vote? Use a pen!!!! You can't rub out a pen.

      If you are planning to subvert an election by changing the votes, do you:

      (A) Open up the ballot box, pull out an eraser, carefully rub off all the marks, then renumber them according to your evil plans; or

      (B) Print out new ballot forms and then number them according to your evil plans;

      (In both cases you need to figure out how to stuff those faked ballots into the box).

  6. devjoe

    Security is not the issue

    Solving the security of internet-based elections is near trivial (I said "near"):

    1) Issue a unique code to every voter by paper mail or relatively safe electronic means (the security of the election process does not depend on the secrecy or integrity of this delivery method)

    2) When voting, the voter records the issued code and casts the vote, again using a relatively safe electronic method (the security of the election process does not depend on the secrecy or integrity of this method either)

    3) Upon publishing the results, the total list of issued codes and their recorded vote is published, allowing every voter who cares to both validate that

    a) their vote is correctly recorded

    b) the totals are correct

    c) the total number of votes cast matches what would be expected

    Of course, this would put a lot of consultants out of a job and obliterate the russia-scare politics and what have you, so no politician in their right mind would consider a system such as this.

    However, what surprises me is that nobody cares about the secrecy of the vote. This is something no internet based system can provide. Going to a booth in privacy ensures that you cast your vote as you please without being coerced by peers, family or anyone else to put your mark at any particular place.

    This, as I see it, is the reason internet elections cannot possibly make sense. It has absolutely nothing to do with the technical security of the system and hackers and Putin - it is a simple matter of ensuring that voters exercise their free will when voting and nothing else.

    At least that's my 0.02 DKK (because my peers voted not to get the Euro) on that issue.

    1. SundogUK Silver badge

      Re: Security is not the issue

      "This, as I see it, is the reason internet elections cannot possibly make sense. It has absolutely nothing to do with the technical security of the system and hackers and Putin - it is a simple matter of ensuring that voters exercise their free will when voting and nothing else."


    2. Wellyboot Silver badge

      Re: Security is not the issue

      >>>(the security of the election process does not depend on the secrecy or integrity of this delivery method)<<<

      Yes it does, the list of individual voter codes getting into the wrong hands due to a poor delivery method would be a disaster. It's a secret ballot to prevent widespread intimidation & retribution.

      Any electronic voting system has 2 problems that cannot be removed.

      (1) it will be a hacking target for any number of groups more interested in a specific result than democracy.

      (2) it will either be possible to identify individual voters or not possible to verify the result if contested.

      Paper voting allows

      (1) visible easily verified counting - numerous observers.

      (2) multiple recounts by different people if needed

      (3) simple destruction of ballots - 1 year after the decision is declared to allow reasonable time for any problems to be highlighted.

    3. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Re: Security is not the issue

      I vote a thousand times using randomly generated codes. Either you can turn those codes back into names and addresses - so you do not have a secret ballot or you can't and you cannot remove only my fake votes.

      1. devjoe

        Re: Security is not the issue

        The codes are long enough so that you cannot guess one.

        You can only cast a vote with an actual valid code (generated by the voting system).

        Thus you do not have fake votes.

        This is not something I just invented; it's a pretty common mechanism and it works :)

        1. #define INFINITY -1

          Re: Security is not the issue

          "The codes are long enough so that you cannot guess one."

          Remind me what problem (of paper ballots) are we trying to solve here?

          Oh yeah, gotta have me some tech, eh?

    4. JohnFen

      Re: Security is not the issue

      How does this method provide for the ability to verify the vote? Relying on individuals to confirm their own votes is both insufficient and incomplete.

  7. Ochib

    Very hard to hack a pencil

    The post is required, and must contain letters.

  8. Clive Harris

    Would an "informal vote" still be possible?

    In Australia, voting is compulsory and you have to number the candidates in order of preference. If your first choice is eliminated then you're deemed to have voted for your next choice, and so on. In a (quite likely) situation where most or all of the candidates are so repulsive that you don't want them to get your vote under any circumstances, then you have the option of spoiling your ballot paper (known as "informal voting"). That way, you can stop your vote going to someone you despise, without being fined for not voting. "Informal voting" is not actually illegal, but it's illegal to encourage anyone to do it. In any case, it should be (hopefully) impossible to trace a spoiled ballot paper back to an individual.

    This may seem a waste of a vote, but I've several times been in a situation where I could not, with a clear conscience, endorse any of the candidates. Since the number of informal votes is published, it's a good way of telling the candidates that you don't think any of them deserves your vote. I'm worried that this will no longer be possible with electronic voting. Any attempt to vote "none of the above" will be rejected, and you would be fined for not voting. I suspect that there will be some combination of button pushes which would register as an informal vote, but that it would be illegal to tell anyone how to do it.

    1. ivan5

      Re: Would an "informal vote" still be possible?

      To solve that problem the last item on the paper should be a vote for 'non of the above' which makes it a legal choice. I think that would never be allowed because the politicians are afraid of rejection - they are very insecure at voting time.

      1. Kevin Johnston

        Re: Would an "informal vote" still be possible?

        I have been saying this for years now (possibly even decades). Not only should there be a 'none of the above' but if that selection gets the highest count then no candidate is elected and they have to try again in one year.

        That would really cause a sphincter moment amongst the politicians as currently no matter what you do, one of them boards the gravy train.

        1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

          Re: NOTA

          None Of The Above stood for election in South Basildon and East Thurrock.

      2. catprog

        Re: Would an "informal vote" still be possible?

        But enough people will still be elected to run the government giving the ones elected more power.

  9. phuzz Silver badge


    "However, unlike overseas, the committee reckoned Russian trolls aren't much interested in Australia"

    But what about those perfidious Kiwis?

  10. JohnFen

    They're right

    See title.

  11. RunawayLoop

    Nothing else matters

    The mechanism for voting matters little.

    There are 2 incumbent choices, both as bad as each other.

    If you think your vote actually counts then just look at how the last 5 or so prime ministers got up. They weren't elected by the majority of citizens.

  12. Glen Turner 666

    Pencils don't leak when stored

    We use a pencil because they are easier than pens to store for the long period between elections. If that worries you, well you are permitted to use your own writing device to mark the ballot.

    Voter ID will almost certainly disenfranchise everyone living in remote areas. Very few people have their issued documents (birth certificates and so on) and getting replacements when the mail takes three weeks and is based on addresses rather than names isn't straightforward.

    A lot of the posts here have poor familiarity with Australia's polling process. The idea that you'd be able to open a ballot box and fiddle with the contents is a little unrealistic. So pencil marks are fine. It's well worth volunteering to be a scruitineer at least once in your life. It is eye opening to see the degree to which Australian elections are secure.

    There's little fraud. Partly because the compulsory voting means that the real voter will also present themselves, leading to fraud being quickly discovered. Australian's aren't upset by being forced to appear on a Saturday to vote. They are upset when being forced to appear on a Saturday to vote and then being told they voted twice. That's the sort of anger which leads people to give their full cooperation to the Federal Police, and then not letting the Police slack off.

    The undermining of out voting process is really happening through the postal voting system. For example, by political parties putting themselves forward as the agency to approach to obtain the postal voting papers through. The wide range of reasons for postal voting is also too broad: eg, employers should be forced to release people for voting, rather than those staff seeking a postal vote. Postal voting means that incidents close to the election date have less influence then they ought to. You'll remember it was only days before the first ACT election that it started to be known that the leading party was a pack of new right loons. The recent by-election in Wentworth would have been much less close if there were less postal voting, as noted by former PM Turnbull.

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