The NSW Electoral Commission’s (NSWEC) e-voting system, iVote, has far exceeded initial expectations of 15,000 users, with more than 46,800 NSW citizens using the technology in the recent state election on 26 March 2011.
NSWEC CIO, Ian Brightwell, told CIO Australia the original suggestions of between 5000 and 15,000 users had far been superseded, with some 95 per cent of those voters being in the interstate and overseas group.
The project, first slated in June last year, initially focused on enabling blind, vision-impaired and disabled voters, as well as those living in remote areas, to cast a secret and unassisted vote from home or in other locations using an interactive voice response by phone or the internet. The world-class technology was later extended to include other groups.
“We got the legislation through Parliament in December with a late amendment adding the ability to have interstate and overseas people use the service, and we found that 95 per cent of the votes came from that group of people who were outside NSW and used iVote over the internet for that purpose,” Brightwell said.
Disabled users accounted for about 2000 of the total usage, in line with the experiences of other jurisdictions which have used this type of technology to support disabled groups.
There were no significant hiccups that impeded the integrity of the system, said Brightwell, but several learnings were taken from the project.
“I think the operational things you learn are more to do with the project implementation, time frames, costs, project team structures - that sort of thing," he said. "You do it once and you become a lot wiser on that. On the fundamental technology concepts, we feel that the implementation was quite robust and met our needs but there are things to take away there for the future.
The project required quite a long lead time, he said, and was not to be taken lightly.
“I would think you definitely need to be underway 12 months before a major election event," he said. "You need a team on the ground at least a year [before the election]. The amount of effort put into the quality assurance side, the implementation of the technology, the physical infrastructure and data centres is quite enormous and I wouldn’t go at those in quite the same way this time.”
Brightwell’s team began the main development of the project in September 2010, leaving “a pretty tight time frame” to plan and test the technology.
“We did quite a lot of testing prior to the implementation of the live system, through its various phases of development and quite significant load and other testing prior to it going live. The public had an opportunity to use the practise system at the time we started registration in mid-February and it ran right through and parallel to the live system so people could have a little practise before they vote.”
Brightwell said would review aspects of the team structure, contract relationships, and processes to improve the success of the technology for future iterations.
“If we were to take a larger number of votes,we would have to consider ways in which we could more efficiently introduce the votes into our downstream voting channels, and vote counting channels particularly,” he said.
"If you could picture us on Saturday night, we had about 10 printers sitting in the room with about 20-25 people printing and sorting ballot papers and sorting - and that’s the tail end of the mechanical process. At the end 46,000 votes in 4 million isn’t a very large number but we have to introduce those back into our normal vote counting streams.
“At the end of the day it’s enfranchised a lot of people who would otherwise not have voted," he said. "I think there’s strong evidence to suggest that the group of people outside NSW - the interstate and overseas group - would not have had the opportunity to vote because of geographic constraints, and they were able to vote online rather than having to go to a consulate office overseas or an interstate electoral office, which is not an easy task when you’re travelling.
“This gave a significant number of those people an opportunity to vote who otherwise would not have voted.”