The NSW electoral commissioner has dropped the iVote voting system for the March 2023 NSW state election, a decision that means blind and vision impaired people will not be able to vote independently.
What is iVote?
The iVote system, allowing people to cast their vote over the internet, has been used in state elections since 2011 and more recently in local government elections.
It has enabled eligible voters who find it difficult to attend a polling booth, due to a disability or being in a remote location or overseas, to cast their vote online or over the telephone.
How do blind people vote in Australia?
Before iVote, vision impaired and blind people were generally forced to tell family, friends or electoral staff how they wanted to vote, so that a vote could be cast on their behalf.
iVote enabled people with vision impairment to cast an anonymous, independent and verifiable vote for the first time, along with other citizens.
Blind people use screen reader software that "speaks" the text on the computer screen.
Why is iVote being phased out?
In the 2021 NSW local government elections, iVote crashed under the weight of demand and three council elections had to be voided by the courts.
The commissioner has said that the current software being used for iVote is being phased out and there is insufficient time to set up and test a new version before the NSW election in March 2023. (Please see Electoral Commissioner's determination - iVote will not be used for 2023 NSW State election, NSW Electoral Commission,16 March 2022.)
What does decommissioning of iVote mean for blind and vision impaired voters?
Even though the electoral commissioner has said that telephone voting will be available for blind and vision impaired voters, it means they won't have the same ability to cast their vote independently, as do other citizens.
Having a secret vote, with no-one knowing who you voted for, is a fundamental legal right which should be equally available to all citizens. Australia once led the world in introducing the secret ballot and it was adopted by other nations.
Casting your vote over the telephone means someone on the other end of the phone will know who you have voted for.
Blind Citizens Australia has lodged a discrimination complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission against the NSW electoral commissioner's decision.
"The decision not to offer iVote in the upcoming state election is a disappointing and distressing decision for the blind and vision impaired community," said Blind Citizens Australia CEO Sally Aurisch.
"Without iVote, many people who are blind or vision-impaired can't vote independently. Instead, they need to vote on the phone, which isn't an equivalent option.
"Phone voting means you tell another person your vote, so it isn't secret, and there's no way to verify that your ballot has been cast according to your instructions," Ms Aurisch said. (Please see Open Letter - Response to the NSW Electoral Commission's decision to discontinue iVote, Blind Citizens Australia, 25 March 2022.)
How does phone voting work?
Telephone voting is only available to approved voters who are unable to attend polling stations. The voter phones the election call centre during the voting period, goes through security and verification checks, and the call centre operator must mark the ballot paper as instructed by the voter.
The operator places the ballot in an envelope with the voter's electorate and registration number, but with no name. It is then included in the electoral vote.
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