Electronic voting is just the start of a long 'to do' list Australia's digital economy needs in order to grow

No more ballot papers. Photo: Paul Kane/ Getty Images.

What does it say about Australian politics that the issue that gripped the nation over the week was not who would win, but how long the result was taking?

Last week I had a bit of a rant asking why the government hadn’t already implement electronic voting, and explaining the disengagement of millennials with the election.

On the weekend, as the result was finally decided, prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and opposition leader Bill Shorten pledged to introduce e-voting.

“We’re a grown up democracy – it shouldn’t be taking eight days to find out who won and who lost,” Shorten said.

“[It is something] we must look at,” Turnbull echoed, “I’ve been an advocate of electronic voting for a long time.”

The tech industry agrees.

Anthony Wong, president of the Australian Computer Society (ACS) – the professional association for Australia’s ICT sector – says it will be a good start for the incoming government to make good on its promises to progress Australia’s digital economy, which is expected to grow from $70 billion in 2014 to $139 billion by 2020.

“With a mandate from the electorate, ACS encourages the prime minister to accelerate the pace of digital education, as a measure to facilitate the transformation of the economy. As the professional body for what is arguably the most important sector for Australia’s future, the ACS stands ready to assist.”

It’s a system that the people of New South Wales are already accustom to, having had the option to cast an iVote in last year’s state election. More than 280,000 people chose to vote that way.

As the Sydney Morning Herald points out, if India — the world’s biggest democracy — can successfully use voting machines, there no reason we shouldn’t be able to do something similar.

Greg Dooley, managing director of Computershare’s Investor Services, which has developed and managed electronic voting for more than 900 listed companies over more than a decade, says the move to e-voting is inevitable.

He says it won’t replace manual systems completely, but provide an alternative for the third of voters currently casting a ballot online.

Dooley told Business Insider that creating an anonymous, verified poll won’t be the problem many critics claim it will be.

“The technology to anonymise voting is already there,” he said. “It will be quite easy to address those concerns.”

But even if electronic voting comes into play, and will make indicative results clearer faster after the polls close on Saturday night, it won’t actually solve the problem that’s kept the nation waiting nearly a fortnight after Australians went to the polls in three critical seats: Hindmarsh, Herbert and Capricornia, which are still too close to call.

Under the existing laws – and taking into account the fact that Australia Post now runs a two-speed system – the Australian Electoral Commission is obliged to wait until 13 days after the ballot for postal votes to arrive back in their home electorates. That means the AEC is still checking the post box this Friday to ensure democracy has run its course.

Since a quarter of Australians used postal or absentee votes in this election, that means that in a close election, voting online won’t help decide who’s running the country for the next three years any faster.

And it depends on how many Australians are willing to give up the Saturday sausage sizzle at their local school for the convenience of choosing a government on their smartphone.

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