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NSW ditches e-voting system after glitch left citizens unable to vote

The electoral commissioner is also seeking the validity of the results in three councillor elections

The state of New South Wales (NSW) has removed its online voting system after a technical glitch prevented citizens from casting their vote at local government elections in December.

The NSW Electoral Commission brought in internet voting for the first time last year for state-wide local government elections, as part of measures to mitigate the risks of the pandemic. However, the commission said that due to performance issues with the iVote system, a number of electors who registered didn’t receive their security credentials and weren’t able to cast a vote using the system.

The commission said that the iVote system now requires extensive reconfiguration and testing, which is essential so it can operate effectively and with integrity under the rules that apply to voting for State and local government elections.

There was an emphasis that integration testing is needed with the commission’s other systems, like election management or ballot counting. However, the commission said that integration testing requires the close collaboration of a number of teams, and it is only funded to retain a small team of specialist resources to deliver iVote.

There is no backup support available for these specialist capabilities that would enable iVote to be offered at by-elections in the near future, while also preparing the system for use at the 2023 State general election, it said.

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The electoral commissioner has also initiated proceedings in the NSW Supreme Court seeking a declaration about the validity of the results in three councillor elections. 

"Finalising the Supreme Court proceedings, completing the iVote system review, and implementing any remediations and improvements, are critical to ensuring the problems that occurred at the December local government elections do not occur again,” said the commission in a statement published online, adding that it is neither feasible or appropriate to approve the use of iVote until these actions are completed.

The risks arising for the commission from the resource constraints and its ageing election systems are exacerbated by ongoing work health and safety responsibilities to manage staff who have only recently delivered the December local elections, after two previous deferrals requiring replanning through periods of lockdown. It added that the pandemic is also affecting the availability of staff and impacting its supply chains adversely.

During the December elections, once a voter applied to use iVote, the system must send them an SMS or email with an ‘iVote number’ to use when casting their vote, according to IT News. This appears to be why iVote was inaccessible, although the commission hasn’t declared how many people it affected yet. It said that almost triple the number of voters used the system in the election compared to any previous election. A full report on the conduct of the election is set to be released by May 2022.

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