Background

The NSW Premier announced on 16 March 2010 that the "Electoral Commissioner will investigate Internet voting for visually impaired people of New South Wales improving their democratic right to a secret ballot".

The Premier's press release stated that "Nationally, there are 300,000 people who are blind or visually impaired with a third of them living in NSW" and that "Previously, blind and visually impaired people were only able to vote through the assistance of a friend or relative or through a large Braille ballot – which may run up to 67 pages."

The initiative was addressed in an amendment to the Parliamentary Electorates and Elections Act 1912, which required the "Electoral Commissioner to conduct an investigation as soon as possible into the feasibility of providing Internet voting for vision-impaired and other disabled persons for elections under this Act and, if such Internet voting is feasible, to propose a detailed model of such Internet voting for adoption."

A final version of the feasibility report was sent to the Premier's office on 23 July 2010 and tabled in Parliament on 2 September 2010.

The rationale behind the recommendations made is to provide an additional means of voting, and one that will enable a secret vote for people who are blind or have low vision.

To give effect to these recommendations, legislative amendments were required. These were introduced in the Parliamentary Electorates and Elections Further Amendment Bill, which was passed on 25 November 2010 and commenced on 7 December 2010.

The issues

  • The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which Australia is a party to, protects the right of persons with disabilities to vote by secret ballot.
  • Around 13,000 NSW electors are blind and around 54,000 have low vision.
  • Approximately 330,000 NSW electors with other disabilities and 20,000 electors in remote, rural areas might also benefit from iVote®.
  • Only around 10% of blind people can read Braille.
  • In Australia, electronic voting to enable voters with a disability to vote independently and secretly is used by the ACT Electoral Commission and has also been used in trials by the VEC and AEC in 2006 and 2007 respectively. These all required the disabled elector to attend a limited number of pre-poll centres.
  • In a survey by Blind Citizens Australia; 73% of respondents said they would choose to vote from home if this was available by electronic voting.

The recommended solution

The key features of the proposed iVote® solution were as follows:

  • a system to allow voting by telephone or the Internet
  • electors would apply to use iVote® in the same way as they apply for a postal vote
  • it would be available for an elector to cast a vote throughout the same period as is available for electors casting a pre-poll vote
  • Electors can call from any telephone or use any computer with an Internet capability to access iVote®
  • Telephone voting will be controlled by the telephone keypad only
  • All instructions, candidate names and party/group names that the electors hear will be recorded in human voice (no computer-generated speech) and the candidate names will also be available to be heard on the NSWEC website.

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