NSW Electoral Commission puts iVote on ice


NSW’s online voting system iVote – used for the first time in the state’s local government elections last December – has been shelved, awaiting “extensive reconfiguration and testing” by the state’s Electoral Commission (NSWEC).

The Electoral Commission announced on Monday that it would suspend the use of iVote until further notice after reports that a glitch in the system prevented an unknown number of registrants from casting their votes on election day (4 December 2021).

“Before it can be used again for any NSW elections the iVote system requires extensive reconfiguration and testing,” the NSWEC said in a statement.

“These steps are essential to ensure the system can operate effectively and with integrity under the rules that apply to voting for State and local government elections.”

The Electoral Commission conceded that “performance issues” in the eVoting system on the day of the election prevented iVote registrants from receiving their security credentials. The credential is required for iVote registrants to cast their votes through the system.

The Electoral Commissioner has also initiated proceedings in the NSW Supreme Court to seek “a declaration about the validity of the results in three councillor elections”.

A report in the wake of the glitch identified the three council elections where the results are in question: Kempsey, Singleton and the City of Shellharbour.

Alongside the court proceedings, the NSWEC said it is also obligated to undertake a comprehensive review and analysis of the root cause or causes of the problem with the iVote system experienced on election day.

However, the Commission noted that funding and resource limitations (including staff absences due to Covid) could hamper a quick resolution.

“The Electoral Commission is only funded, however, 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 State or local government by-elections in the near future, while also preparing the system for use at the 2023 State general election.” 

This lack of funding was also pointed out by NSW Electoral Commissioner John Schmidt during a budget estimates session last November, revealing that funding constraints at the Department would lead to compliance failures, particularly with mandated cybersecurity policies.

In 2022, NSW will have at least five by-elections to contest across the state, including the former Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s seat of Willoughby.

First introduced for the 2011 election, the iVote system allows constituents to cast votes either over the phone or online via the iVote platform.

Initially only in use for state elections, the Local Government Act was amended earlier this year to allow iVote to also be used for council elections. This, the Government said, was largely due to “the challenges of Covid-19”, with the council elections already having been postponed twice in the year due to Covid restrictions.

At the time, the NSWEC blamed iVote access problems on a surge of people using the system, creating a backlog that could not be cleared.

According to the Electoral Commission, nearly three times the number of voters used iVote at these elections compared to previous elections (totalling more than 650,000 votes).

The NSWEC said it will now move to finalise the Supreme Court proceedings, complete the iVote system review, and implement any remediations and improvements, which it stressed “are critical to ensuring the problems that occurred at the December local government elections do not occur again”.

“In light of the above, the Electoral Commissioner is of the view that it is neither feasible nor appropriate to approve the use of iVote again until those actions are completed.”

A full report on the conduct of the election is expected (and required by legislation) to be released on the NSWEC website by May 2022.