Postal voting will be dead within two election cycles, predicts the NSW Electoral Commission’s Chief Information Officer, Ian Brightwell.
Mr Brightwell, who has managed electronic voting in the 2011 and the 2015 NSW elections, said postal voting is “not going to be viable within one or two election cycles” and added, “there’s every chance that it will be dead in eight years”.
Australia Post is already haemorrhaging money from its ailing letters delivery service and the government-owned corporation is in the process of changing to a two-speed mail service, where non-priority mail will take up to three days and stamps will rise to $1, while priority next-day delivery will cost at least $1.50.
With these new measures designed to staunch a forecast $12 billion in losses from the company’s letters business over the next decade, postal voting looks set to become an increasingly unreliable and expensive way for remote and absent voters and those with disabilities to vote.
Mr Brightwell said postal voting already had its drawbacks and its use was dipping, with younger people unlikely to cast postal votes. It also had a huge failure rate for engaging overseas voters.
“We send out a declaration with ballot papers in them and 60 per cent of them don’t come back so it becomes a pretty pointless exercise or they come back out of time,” Mr Brightwell said.
He said ‘monstrous’ ballot papers were also a nightmare to stuff into envelopes.
“It’s a very manual process. We’re seeing numbers drop off. The younger generation don’t even what the post is.
“We’ve got to have an alternative and the only obvious one for remote voting is internet voting,” he said.
Mr Brightwell said the NSW Electoral Commission was taking the idea of iVoting replacing postal voting seriously and planning for its eventual succession.
“The barriers are largely psychological. People’s perceptions – which are valid concerns – but I don’t there are any real barriers in terms of technology or process,” he said.
Electronic voting using the internet or telephone is currently allowed under the iVote system in NSW for people who are blind, vision-impaired or have another kind of disability; people living more than 20km from a polling centre and those who will be interstate or overseas on election day.
Voters outside their normal voting district but inside NSW on polling day are not currently eligible to use iVote. This legislative change was proposed by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters but knocked back by the NSW government.
Mr Brightwell said iVoting was a “natural fit” for local government elections and help absentee voters cast their votes.
“It isn’t a lack of interest or will [from local councils] but a question of who pays. Local councils understandably feel that it should not be them,” he said.
“It seems a tragedy because we have a significant increase in the numbers of penalty notices that go out in local government elections compared with state – a couple of hundred thousand – and most of that increase is the fact that people can’t absent vote in a local government election. iVote could address that problem.”
But iVotes still account for a relatively small number of the total votes cast.
Around 47,000 iVotes were cast in the 2011 NSW election. The NSW Electoral Commission expects between 150,000 to 200,000 at the 2015 state election – largely driven by interstate and overseas voters – but this is out of a total of 4.6 million votes statewide.
Mr Brightwell said countries that had tried electronic voting across the board, like Canada or Estonia, had found the take-up was only 30 per cent and Mr Brightwell said he supported a mix of voting modes.
“We don’t want to lose sight of the fact that in Australia voting is a very social activity and that’s an important aspect of the process.
“I don’t think the public at large would thank you if you changed that in a hurry. There’s a need to pace these things slowly.”
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