I’VE been away and missed the formal announcement of the successful candidate for the ACT’s second Senate seat. But that is the point, the election was September 7, I departed Canberra September 21 and the declaration still appeared some time off.
During this long, intervening period I occasionally scrutineered at the Australian Electoral Commission headquarters, a time-consuming job that does nothing for ageing backs and knees. I found the AEC staff and volunteers professional, diligent and helpfully honest doing what can best be described as a tedious task.
Thousands of large white Senate ballot papers from almost 100 ACT polling booths are carefully unpacked. Already placed in party affiliations, each ballot is individually checked, firstly for above-the-line votes then, in a separate count, for below-the-line. During this counting, questionable votes are removed, perhaps to be subject to another scrutiny.
The party ballot papers are counted in bundles of 50 or parts thereof and secured by rubber bands before being counted again by another official. Finally, the total of each grouping is tallied with the total received from the polling booth. The bundles then are marked and wrapped in plastic.
Readers who have persevered this far will have likely found it a boring experience, in which case I have made my point.
Why does Australia, a pioneer in electoral reforms, persist in an antiquated system of voting and counting more appropriate to the early 20th century? Where is the electronic voting that is a feature of other progressive nations?
Apart from the obvious advantage of speed, in execution and result, electronic voting would overcome the perhaps considerable number of people who, unknowingly, vote informal.
Electronic voting can accommodate all direct voting choices, including deliberate informal, and may render obsolete the how-to-vote card gauntlet outside polling booths. Certainly, it will stop scrutineering arguments over ticks and numerals on ballots and might even see a reduction in the number of polling places at least in city suburbs. And think of the ballot papers and string-attached pencils saved!
At a time when the democracy pundits are all atwitter about micro-parties gaining Senate representation, a long overdue reform of our clumsy voting system appears possible. With self-interest also finally forcing into action the hearts and minds of our conservative politicians – of all political persuasions – could we extend the necessary reforms to include electronic voting, please?
I am confident if agreed-to changes to voting methods such as optional preferential can be incorporated into the new system, but the important step is to get on with it now. Spend the money, yes probably millions, because it will come eventually but extra delay can only be at more expense – in every sense of the word.