The COVID-19 pandemic saw our work, shopping and other basic life tasks move online.
In Australia’s first federal election since the COVID-19 pandemic, you might be wondering whether you can cast your vote online.
Can I vote in the federal election online?
We’ll cut to the chase: no, you cannot vote online in the 2022 federal election.
There has never been an ability to vote in an Australian federal election on the internet using a personal device.
But it doesn’t mean you cannot vote online in any election in Australia.
Some local council elections in NSW have offered online voting
NSW is the only jurisdiction in Australia where online voting has been permitted — and it’s only been used in a few select elections.
The remote voting system iVote has been used for state elections since 2011, and more recently in local government elections.
The platform is run by the NSW Electoral Commission and allows eligible voters to cast their ballots online or by phone.
Introduced after a court case brought on behalf of blind and low-vision voters, eligibility has since expanded to include:
- Silent electors (people who believe having their address on the publicly available electoral roll could put their safety at risk)
- People who live more than 20 kilometres from a polling station
- Those who are travelling on election day
- Those who cannot attend a polling place due to a disability
The system was also more widely used for elections held during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the system has not been without its faults, and this month the NSW Supreme Court ruled three local government elections held in December 2021 were invalid due to an iVote malfunction.
Analysis commissioned by the NSW Electoral Commission found 34 iVote ballots in Kempsey, 55 in Singleton and 54 in Shellharbour failed in the election.
The Electoral Commission applied to the Supreme Court to scrap the election results “to protect the integrity of the electoral system”.
The NSW Electoral Commission was ordered to foot the bill for holding the required re-elections.
The commission also said iVote would not be used in the 2023 state election as it rebuilds the software.
What about the rest of Australia?
In Queensland, electoral laws don’t allow any form of online voting, but electronically-assisted voting is available for people who meet certain requirements — such as those who cannot vote without assistance due to an impairment, or those who live more than 20 kilometres from a polling booth.
In those cases, there is a two-step telephone voting process that’s designed to let voters cast a secret ballot.
Victoria’s electoral laws don’t allow for online voting in either local government or state elections.
Tasmania has never had a truly online voting system, but did once have a system known as “express voting”.
Similar to sending an email, express voting operated between 2010 and 2018 for state House of Assembly and Legislative Council elections, but it was scrapped after a 2018 cybersecurity review revealed it was not sufficiently safe and secure.
South Australian voters also cannot cast a ballot online.
In the most recent state election, with a large portion of the population either unwell with COVID-19 or isolating as a close contact, voters were only able to register for a postal vote if the request was made with sufficient time for it to be returned ahead of polling day.
Those who entered isolation within days of the election could collect their ballot papers from a COVID testing station.
Western Australia has offered electronic voting in state elections since 2017, but only in restricted circumstances, such as for people with accessibility issues.
Eligible voters have a ballot paper read out to them and then cast their vote by pressing a button on a keyboard.
Senior politics lecturer at Notre Dame University Martin Drum said between 2,000 and 3,000 people were eligible to use this system, both in pre-poll voting and on election day.
The ACT’s electronic voting system used at every election since 2001 uses an e-voting card to authenticate votes on a computer at a voting terminal.
No votes are taken or transmitted over a public network like the internet.
The territory has enthusiastically adopted electronic voting and even introduced a limited form of online voting for Canberrans overseas.
At the 2020 territory election, 70 per cent of voters cast their votes via computer at one of 15 special polling booths across the city.
ACT electoral commissioner Damian Cantwell said computer-assisted voting resulted in the lowest-ever number of informal votes and the fastest-ever final result. But he said universal online voting was unsuitable, as there were “substantial complexities and extremely high risks, including significant cyber risks”.
While the Northern Territory has reviewed its electoral laws in recent years — dropping previous criteria for postal and early voting to encourage more Territorians to vote — its electoral commission made a 2018 submission to introduce electronic voting. However, that is yet to happen.
So, the territory does not currently offer an online voting option for local council, state or federal elections.
What can Australia learn from other countries?
Voters in Estonia have been able to cast their vote in local, national and European elections via the internet, using personal computers or phones that have an ID card reader, since 2007.
It remains the only country where voters can cast their vote over the internet.
A host of other countries use electronic voting machines, including the United States, Brazil, Philippines, India, Namibia and Mongolia.
Electronic voting became a heated issue in the United States during the 2020 election, when outgoing president Donald Trump claimed without evidence that the machines lost him millions of votes.
The country uses a number of different types of electronic voting systems, including direct recording electronic machines where the voter casts a ballot on a machine and it records the result.
Another type is optical scanners, where a voter votes on a piece of paper and feeds it into a machine that counts the vote.
And another type is ballot marking devices, where a voter uses an electronic system to cast a vote and the machine prints a paper ballot paper. That ballot paper is then submitted to an optical scanner.