Blind and vision-impaired voters in NSW affected by decommissioning of iVote

1st Dec 2022

The NSW Electoral Commissioner has dropped the iVote 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 allows people to cast their vote over the internet and 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, by using 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. For further information, see the Electoral Commissioner’s determination – iVote will not be used for 2023 NSW State election.

What does decommissioning 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, this 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 that 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 to decommission iVote from future NSW Elections is disappointing and distressing’, said Blind Citizens Australia CEO Sally Aurisch.

In an Open Letter – Response to the NSW Electoral Commission’s decision to discontinue iVote, Blind Citizens Australia explained:

‘Any other form of voting, such as via telephone, does not fulfill the necessary accessibility requirements and provides no guarantee or confidence to the blind and vision-impaired community that their vote will be secret and verifiable.’

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.

This is an edited version of an article first published by Stacks Law Firm.

The ALA thanks Nick Burton for this contribution.

Nick Burton has wanted to be a lawyer since he was nine years old and conducted his first investigation to discover the true identity of Santa Claus – unearthing evidence of a present receipt, taking witness statements from his brother, and then confronting his parents about their fraudulent behaviour and felonious impersonation of Santa. While his investigation ruined Christmas that year, it awakened a passion for justice and sealed his future career. 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the authors’ and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA).

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Tags: NSW State election Nick Burton iVote