Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Why We’re Still Voting on Paper

Credit: Elections ACT

A single-use swipe card gives Canberrans access to the electronic ballot for the ACT elections. Credit: Elections ACT

By Stephen Luntz

Electronic voting has been in place for more than a decade, so why are we still using pencil and paper for this year’s federal election?

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Despite all the technological advances of recent years, this year’s federal election will be conducted in a manner barely changed from a century before.

While far more people now vote at prepolling centres, the act of voting is still done with pencil and paper – something almost archaic to most of our usual practices. Many may wonder whether the electoral commission is stuck in some pre-computing Dark Age, but there are good reasons why voting continues to be done in the time-honoured manner while the rest of our lives shifts online.

Ancient Athenians conducted some elections by dropping black or white pebbles in a bucket. The system allowed both secrecy and for the vote to be checked and recounted. It took two millennia for the system to be improved.

The idea for the modern system of secret ballots began in England, but was first implemented in Australia with the Tasmanian electoral act of 1856, quickly followed by Victoria and South Australia. The initiative spread to other democracies, and for a time was known worldwide as the “Australian” or “Victorian ballot”.

While voters might promise their vote to the local landowner or bully, in the privacy of the polling booth their conscience was their own. By making rigging hard and cutting down on corruption and intimidation, the Australian ballot was a key feature of Australia’s progress.

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The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.