With the result of the last federal election taking a couple of weeks to determine, there is a renewed discussion on the possibility of online electronic voting. While an undoubted advantage of e-voting is that the result of an election, no matter how close, would be known on election night, I am against the idea of e-voting for a number of reasons.

The first question that arises in the matter of e-voting is, would it be secure? But that question is simplistic to the point of meaninglessness. For there are many aspects to the security of e-voting:

  • Identification: Who are you?
  • Authentication: How can you prove who you are?
  • Authorisation: Are you eligible to vote?
  • Privacy: Can others see how I vote?
  • Anonymity: At a later time is it possible to see how an individual voted?
  • Auditability: If there is any suspicion that a result has been rigged or interfered with, is it possible at a later time to verify or prove the result?

And of course with each of these questions of security the answer is not just a simple “yes” or “no, but can be a complex and nuanced answer. And although it is probable that a system of e-voting could be implemented that was “secure enough”, it is absolutely certain that the security mechanisms of any such system would be so complicated and esoteric that they would be unintelligible to the vast majority of electors. Seriously, how many people are going to get their head around blockchain technology?

With this inevitable opaqueness of understanding of security, e-voting fails to meet two basic criteria of democratic election – transparency and confidence. That is, do people understand how the the vote and count is conducted, and do they have confidence that the vote and count is conducted fairly.

Although it has limitations, our current paper based system of voting meets all the criteria I have mentioned above. Having electoral officials sort ballot papers into different piles while scrutineers appointed by candidates watch on, is both intelligible and provides a high level of confidence in the validity of the result.

Apart from these two issues of transparency and confidence, there are other reasons why I think e-voting is a bad idea. For example, there is a risk that the incidence of fraudulent voting would increase with e-voting. With the current system (apart from postal voting) to cast a vote on behalf of someone else, requires you to tell a bald lie, face to face with an electoral official, when they ask you if you’ve voted already. With e-voting, if you have enough information to impersonate another voter (and with family members that will often be the case), then a fraudulent vote on their behalf will simply require an impersonal tick in a checkbox on a computer screen in the privacy of your own home. And we are already well conditioned to tell lies of this nature on the internet, because of the never ending requirement to tick checkboxes to say that we’ve read terms and conditions that we have no intention of reading.

Finally, I am skeptical of e-voting because it risks further disengaging an already jaded voter base. With the current system (postal votes aside) you have to physically get your body out of the house, and to a polling place, past the candidate volunteers, queue up with other citizens and cast your vote. Although not too onerous, there is effort involved, and this effort I think makes people more deliberate in their voting decision. On the other hand, e-voting could easily become a quick and mindless filling in a web form just to avoid a fine, given as little deliberation as the meaningless daily web polls that online media sites love to serve up to us.

An argument over nothing

It’s election day today. Two federal elections ago I wished for high speed national broadband network (NBN); In the last federal election I lampooned the coalition’s fibre to the node (FTTN) solution in favour of Labor’s fibre to the premises (FTTP) solution, but I’ve come to realise that it’s an argument over nothing. Literally nothing. For six years on, this is the status of the NBN in my area:

NBNA FTTN broadband solution that doesn’t exist is patently of equal value to a FTTP broadband solution that doesn’t exist.

Still despite the incredible dullness of the campaign, and the ordinary options before us, there are few things to be thankful for in this election:

  1. With the recent changes to Senate voting procedures I only had to number 6 squares above the line in order to vote for my preferences, instead of 154 squares below the line.
  2. Apart from a vestigial Queen in a ceremonial role, Australia mostly sorted out the whole leaving Europe thing 115 years ago.
  3. No matter who wins today, Donald Trump won’t be the leader of Australia.

Sammy J Says It All

On 7th May 2016 I listened to Malcolm Turnbull as he announced a double dissolution election for July 2. An hour later I got about halfway through listening to Bill Shorten’s response before I was compelled to switch off, for I realised that with both men, I could see their lips moving, I could hear words coming out of their mouths, but neither of them were saying anything.

In the Federal election of 2010 I posted 37 blog entries and in the 2013 campaign I posted 18 blog entries. After the banality of the May 7 speeches I thought I’d wait until something interesting or substantive was said in this campaign. Seven weeks later, this is my first post – not because Bill or Malcolm has finally said anything of importance in this campaign, but rather to note that Sammy J in his “Playground Politics” satire is a ray of reason in a sea of silliness. Sammy J says it all.


Hurray for democracy

icon_senateballotpaperI like to follow politics. Mostly its a long procession of frustrations, disappointments and failures, but every now and again there’s something positive to cheer about. Today is one of those days.

Back in September 2013 after the last federal election I blogged about the broken Senate voting process, and suggested three ways that it could be improved. Well today, thanks to an epic all-night 28 hour debate in the Senate, my wishes came true, when the parliament passed electoral reform laws that will allow preferential voting ‘above the line’ on the Senate ballot paper, as well as only requiring 12 preferences to be indicated if voting ‘below the line’.

Hurray for democracy!

The only sour note is why on earth the Australian Labor Party were so dogged about wanting to retain the existing system where political parties distribute preferences in complex and opaque ways in back rooms before an election, instead of the system passed today where preferences are decided by the voters, in the ballot box, on election day.

Things I just don’t get

  1. idontgettrumpHow Donald Trump can be the leading candidate in the Republican nomination race for the U.S. presidency.
  2. Why some cyclists (and I saw another example of this just a few days ago) will ride around with a cycle helmet draped over their head, but not buckled on, thereby incurring all the disadvantages of owning, carrying and wearing a helmet, without gaining any of the benefits that a helmet might give in the case of an accident.

Trumped up ignorance

Donald Trump September 3 2015U.S. Presidential hopeful Donald Trump was not too pleased this week when Pope Francis suggested that Trump’s plan to build a wall to keep immigrant’s out of the country was not Christian. The Pope is quite right though – Galatians 3:14 has something to say about dividing walls and what Christ does with them …

“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.”

But Trump’s response to Pope Francis beggars belief, with him reportedly saying of the Pope:

“For a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful.”

Really?? What about Jesus, quite a significant religious leader, who wasn’t averse to questioning the faith of people, particularly the faith of the political and establishment leaders of the time. In response to a disingenuous question from the Pharisees Jesus replies in Mark 7:6 …

“Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”

And in Matthew 23:27-28 Jesus says …

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.  In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”

For Trump to say that religious leaders shouldn’t question a person’s faith, demonstrates a profound and disturbing ignorance of the very religious leader that Trump hypocritically claims to follow.

New cycling laws are noise and smoke

cycle10kThe NSW government is introducing in March this year some new laws relating to bicycle riding, including increasing fines and the requirement for adult riders to carry photo ID when cycling. These changes are eliciting varied responses, both positive and negative.

From my point of view as a regular cyclist, commuting to work on weekdays and recreational cycling on the weekends, the practical impact of these changes is somewhere between zero and unimaginably small.

Most times when I cycle I already carry a photo ID in my wallet. The only times I might not have a wallet on me is on a short weekend ride with my son in quiet suburban streets. As for the increase in fines, if you abide by the rules then the size of the fines are irrelevant. But more than that, in my 36 years of driving a car, and 7 years of cycle commuting to work I have never, ever seen a cyclist pulled over to be fined. In fact I have never even heard of a cyclist being fined. No doubt it happens, but the infrequency of it makes all this talk about increased fines a meaningless irrelevance.

But aside from the almost negligible practical implications of these new laws, whenever a change in public policy is proposed, I believe these four questions need to be addressed:

  1. What is the problem that these changes are seeking to solve?
  2. How is it expected that the changes will be the solution to the problem?
  3. Is there any evidence or research that shows that the changes will solve the problem?
  4. What monitoring or assessment mechanisms will be put in place to measure the efficacy of the changes?

It seems to me that these four questions aren’t even being asked let alone answered in the current debate. All in all there’s a lot of noise and smoke, but no motion forward.