Australian parliament will get its first taste of electronic voting, with its introduction to the House of Representatives from next year.

Leader of the House of Representatives, Christopher Pyne, announced the scheme on Tuesday, promising it would bring increased efficiency.

“The implementation of electronic voting will reduce significantly the time required for each vote in the chamber,” he said.

“Voting outcomes will be transparent, accurate, and known immediately, freeing up more time for important parliamentary business to be conducted each day the House sits.

“Electronic voting will also provide an electronic solution for recording division voting and improve online accessibility to division process and results.”

Pyne said electronic voting would be operational in 2019. The idea of electronic voting within Parliament House was first floated almost 50 years ago.

Currently, voting in the lower house is either by a ‘vote on the voices’ or a ‘division’, where members of parliament move to either side of the chamber to indicate their vote.

As this method has long been a time-consuming process, the idea of electronic voting in parliament is not a new one.

The Joint Select Committee on the New and Permanent Parliament House agreed, in 1970, that the new Parliament House be created so that it be conducive to electronic voting.

Although it was not included in the final design, architect Romaldo Giurgola’s building, opened in 1988, was still created with the possibility of e-voting in mind.

Published in 2005, the fifth edition of House of Representatives Practice details, “necessary conduits have been provided, and Members’ desks have been designed so that control switches can be installed should a decision be taken by the House to install electronic voting in the future.”

While the basic infrastructure was already there, discussions got more serious in 2016 when the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Procedure tabled, Division required? Electronic voting in the House of Representatives.

The report recommended that electronic voting to record divisions in the House of Representatives be implemented, provided voting still occured within the chamber.

Parliament House in Canberra was designed with e-voting in mind. Source: Shutterstock

It also stated that the House continues to divide to the left and right of the Chair to vote in a division, with a swipe or touch card and reader allowing members to vote from any seat in the chamber.

There was no indication from Minister Pyne whether or not these specific recommendations would be implemented in the chosen system.

The report also details potential costs of the introducing electronic voting to parliament, with implementation ranging from $2.3m to $4.6m, and yearly support from $250,000 to $400,000 depending on the sophistication of the system (the costliest option being a facial biometrics system that identifies votes based on a member’s location in the chamber.)

The Department of Parliamentary Services will call for tenders for the project “shortly”.

How about the rest of us?

But does this parliamentary decision mean we’re one step closer to ditching ballot papers once and for all in our state and federal elections?

Electronic voting has been trialled for groups such as blind and low-vision voters since the 2007 election, while 1,500 electronically certified lists, which allowed voters to be marked off in real-time, were used on election day in 2016.

The NSW Electoral Commission has used its iVote platform at the past two state elections, with a $1.9m revamp recently announced ahead of the 2019 state election, which is already predicted to attract 500,000 online voters.

Federally, security concerns and existing legislation remain major roadblocks to the possibility of large-scale online voting systems.

Earlier this year Information Age published a story on the possible use of blockchain-based electronic voting systems in future elections, due to the decentralised and secure nature of the technology.

The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) responded to the idea saying that it, “runs federal electoral events according to the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 which provides for a manual, paper-based voting system in quite prescriptive detail… The AEC will continue to implement a paper-based voting system until such time as Parliament changes the legislation.”