With a land mass of over 7 million square kilometres, Australia is the sixth largest country in the world. However, it is also one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world with a total population of density of just 2.7 people per square kilometre. Compare that to the approximately 32 people per square kilometre of the United States and the 349 people per square kilometre in India. What this means is that reaching each and every citizen can be quite a logistical challenge, particularly for residents of the Outback.
It's no wonder that the Australia Post is considering the elimination of traditional home delivery for mail, moving toward local “community mailboxes” instead. For some Australians, this could mean walking several kilometres simply to fetch or to send off any mail at all. The future of the postal service in Australia is uncertain and this could leave postal voting in jeopardy.
As it stands, Australians do have the opportunity to vote through the mail, but this configuration is rife with challenges. Sending blank paper ballots to citizens and then requiring them to send the ballots back can be costly and time-consuming, not to mention potentially unreliable as the ballots could be lost in the mail. Online voting can overcome many of the issues of postal voting, particularly for Australians living in remote areas. If they can get online, they can vote and the ballot can be received and tabulated instantly.
As with any change, there are risks and challenges associated with online remote voting system. Ian Brightwell, Chief Information Officer for New South Wales’ Electoral Commission, has indicated that Internet voting is worth the risk. By moving toward internet voting, the democratic process is far more accessible not only for residents of remote areas, but also for Australians who may be living overseas or travelling interstate. There is no requirement to return back to their home district to cast a ballot.
Australian authorities are not considering to replace traditional voting altogether; their goal is to provide a complimentary alternative that will enhance the accessibility of the electoral process. Brightwell foresees the iVote system accounting for no more than 10-15% of all ballots cast.