The integrity of future NSW elections could be under threat after the state’s Electoral Commission lost a number of “very specialised skills” amid a spending axe.
The Electoral Commissioner John Schmidt admitted he had to let a number of people go in the cabinet’s iVote arm after funding for them was discontinued, which posed a “challenge” for the beleaguered department.
Schmidt’s admission comes just six months after iVote system went down on the eve of NSW’s elections.
Revealed during a State Premier and Finance committee on 5 September, Schmidt highlighted the “core capability” reduction and its effect on the” risk of failure [and] a risk of something going wrong”.
“The worst outcome… is that the outcome of the election is called into question and we have to do it again and the integrity of the Electoral Commissioner or the commission is called into doubt as well,” he said.
Set up to ensure people who have a disability, are sick or are outside of the state on election day can vote, the iVote registration system failed to load in the recent election’s run-up, causing unprecedented pressure on the service’s phone line, as reported in Computerworld.
A week earlier, the platform came under scrutiny after security flaws were found in the voting system in Switzerland, which developed by Scytl, the same creator of NSW’s iVote.
Schmidt addressed these “user experience problems” as down to “normal IT technical problems — nothing malicious from overseas”.
“Having said that, we have to be alive to the fact that it is a potential risk,” he added.
However, Member of the Legislative Council Robert Borsak raised concerns about any potential roll-out of iVote to general elections due to international hacking incidents, especially in the US and in China.
“In light of recent overseas hacking events — and we have seen a lot of that; it has chewed up a lot of news time in the United States, especially supposed Russian hacking of the presidential election for Trump a few years ago and also some activities of the Chinese we are told, from time to time — all these reports have certainly got to give you some pause in relation to the technologies they are using,” Borsak said. “And the iVote technology is quite old now, as far as I understand it.”
Although Schmidt claimed the system was refreshed before the last election, he also expressed reservations about its wider use.
“I am committed to iVote,” he said. “I am not arguing for an expansion of iVote. iVote serves a purpose for a particular tranche of electors. iVote was originally introduced for blind, low-vision or disabled electors.”
“I believe it serves a valuable function for people who might otherwise be disenfranchised,” he added.