Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Can e-voting solve the oversized ballot papers problem?

While most major elections around the world feature no more than five major parties, it is not unheard of for a poll exercise to have a whole slew of parties slugging it out for votes.

In Australia, for instance, a total of 46 parties have already registered for the Australian Senate election in September. If the 11 additional applicants up for consideration are approved, that would bring to 57 the number of parties on a single ballot.

Given this scenario, it’s most likely that the ballot paper will measure an incredible 1.02 meters wide or over three feet across.  This makes the supersized ballot paper quite unwieldy not only for voters, but also for election staff who must handle, pack, transport, count and secure the extra large papers.

To make matters even worse for voters, the ballots use extra small six-point type.  The Australian Electoral Commission, in fact, is even issuing magnifying sheets to help staff and voters read the text on the ballots. The oversized ballots would also take much longer to count manually, as the staff would inherently have to spend more time reading and recording each of the votes.
Aside from problems an over-sized ballot causes on Election Day, it also entails many logistical challenges as the ballots must be properly secured and transported, and requires a much larger space than regular-sized ballots.

Yet as with most problems in this modern age, there is a technological solution to this particular challenge. For instance, Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting machines use voting pads which could display an infinite number of candidates, rendering supersized ballots unnecessary as voters could record their vote on a touchscreen display.   

E-voting is definitely a step towards the right direction in making elections more efficient and transparent.  Safeguards like the Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT), where the machine prints out a confirmation receipt, ensure that the voter’s true intent is what is recorded on the ballot. After all, transparency and accuracy can never be sacrificed for efficiency and speed. 

E-voting is not without its challenges and concerns, yet its many benefits make it increasingly attractive to election commissions all around the world. More work is needed, but e-voting can be a viable solution to the problem of supersized ballot papers in cases like this in Australia.