Further Supplementary Submission to the Electoral Matters

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					Further Supplementary Submission to the Electoral Matters
Committee – May 2009


The Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) provided a supplementary submission to
the Electoral Matters Committee (EMC) in March 2009 on its Inquiry into Voter
Participation and Informality. Subsequently, the EMC requested further information to
expand on a number of aspects covered in the supplementary submission –
specifically, the expansion of electronic voting, overseas voting and the legislative and
administrative changes suggested.



Electronic voting
The VEC’s vision is “all Victorians actively participating in our democracy”. To achieve
this, it is essential that the VEC pursue all practicable options to provide voters with
services that enable them to vote privately and to vote formally. Traditional paper-
based voting methods make it difficult or impossible for voters in particular categories
to achieve these ends – especially people who are blind/vision-impaired, people with
motor impairments and people with poor English-language skills.
For the 2006 State election, the VEC developed and implemented an electronic voting
solution on stand-alone kiosks with touch screens, audio recordings of
instructions/options and the capacity to present instructions in eleven languages other
than English. Legislation restricted the use of these kiosks to people who are blind or
vision-impaired.
The VEC is currently re-examining the electronic voting solution used in 2006 with a
view to making modifications to the software and hardware. This re-examination is
going down two paths.
Firstly, an analysis will be conducted of the feedback from users at the 2006 State
election and the work of the Australian Electoral Commission in developing its own
electronic voting solution for the 2007 Federal election (and the feedback thereon) to
see what modifications could be made to the kiosks to improve them. This will include
looking at whether there are improvements that could be made that would reduce the
cost of rolling out the solution.
The second element of consideration will focus on determining whether it would be
practicable to implement an electronic voting solution remotely via the internet or via
telephones to a voting facility that has a controlled environment. This will start with an
examination of whether the existing software might be readily adapted to provide
voting via these additional channels. It will also include an examination of whether
remote electronic voting might be used to provide a more useable, more widely-
available or more cost-effective means of providing secret voting to the blind and
vision-impaired.


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The VEC is hoping to achieve a number of benefits through this investigation:

   •   a better service for blind and vision impaired voters for the 2010 Victorian State
       election (and, if possible, a more widely available and cheaper solution than the
       one implemented in 2006);

   •   the potential to provide voting remotely to Victorians overseas at election time
       (However, this could not be actualised without legislative change.); and

   •   the ability to offer remote voting to commercial clients and for the VEC to
       thereby gain an increased understanding of electronic voting, in accordance
       with the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee’s recommendation,
       supported by the Government, that the VEC “maintain an appraisal of
       developments in the area of electronic and online voting”.
The latter two options would not be implementable for the 2010 State election.
The VEC is aware of the recent report from the Commonwealth Joint Standing
Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM) which has recommended that electronic
voting at the Federal level be discontinued due to the high cost and poor take-up rate.
The VEC has a contrary view that work should continue to address such issues (as
explained above) due to the research results provided to the EMC in its supplementary
submission and observance of the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act
2006, which specifically includes:

   s17 (1) Every person in the State has the right, and is to have the opportunity,
   without discrimination –
           (a) To take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely
               chosen representatives; and
           (b) To participate in public life and in the public decisions that affect their
               lives.

       (2) Every eligible person has the right, and is to have the opportunity, without
       discrimination –
           (a) To vote and be elected at periodic elections that guarantee the free
               expression of the will of the electors; and
           (b) To have access, on general terms of equality to the Victorian public
               service and public office.
Legislative change was not passed in Victoria to permit the use of electronic voting for
the blind and vision-impaired for the 2008 local government elections in Victoria - as
had been suggested by the VEC. Consequently, in an effort to enfranchise this
growing sector of the community with a secret vote, the VEC offered an ‘opt-in’
program for those who are blind or vision-impaired to register for a large-print or Braille
ballot paper. Some 25 individuals registered for a Braille ballot paper and 148 for a
large-print ballot paper. The feedback on this initiative from the registrants was
extremely supportive. The VEC considers that for the 2010 State election, blind and
vision-impaired voters should be given the option of Braille and large-print ballot
papers and access to electronic voting at a minimum.




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Overseas voting
Victorian electors who are travelling overseas for periods can notify the Australian
Electoral Commission (AEC) or the VEC of this fact by completing either an ‘Overseas
Notification’ form or an ‘Application for Registration as an Overseas Elector’. It is not
compulsory to do so, and nor is it compulsory for electors overseas to vote. Victorian
legislation is dependent on Commonwealth legislation in this area: a person registered
as an overseas elector for Commonwealth purposes is automatically an overseas
elector for State purposes.
   1. Overseas Notification – provides the elector with the opportunity to nominate
      the dates that they will be absent from the country, their enrolled address and
      their overseas address.
       On this form they can elect to have their details removed from the roll – or (if
       they are going to be overseas for less than a year) they can nominate to keep
       their details on the roll but would like it noted that they may not be able to vote
       whilst away (they will be returning to their enrolled address).
   2. Application for registration as an overseas elector – this form is for those
      electors who will be living overseas for up to six years and who would like to be
      able to vote in Federal, State and council elections. They must nominate how
      long they will be away and most particularly, where they wish to have their
      electoral communication sent (to the enrolled address or other). They must
      intend to return to Australia. Australians already living overseas can also apply
      to enrol as an overseas elector. If an overseas elector fails to vote in a Federal
      election, he or she is removed from the roll.
The Agent-General for Victoria in London estimates that between 500,000 and
700,000 Australians are residing in London at any point in time depending on the time
of the year. Of that figure, he estimates that approximately 70,000 to 80,000 are
eligible to vote in Victorian State elections, whereas in fact only 1,861 did so in 2006.
The Australian Government does not keep records of Australians living outside the
country and is unable to provide this data. United Kingdom census statistics also do
not appear to report on the number of Australian residents in the United Kingdom.
The best information available is compiled by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS),
based on the completion of departure cards. The ABS has provided the VEC with a
report on Victorians who were Australian citizens 18 years of age and over who left
Australia in October and November over the past five years. October and November
were selected because this is the period of State election campaigns. The report
divides departures into short-term (less than one year) and long-term (one year and
over), and also into young (18-30) and older (over 30). Unless otherwise stated, the
statistics below are based on the average for the years 2004-2008, to iron out annual
fluctuations.
How many Victorians depart?
An average of 86,755 Victorians go overseas in October each year, and an average of
86,197 leave in November. The average disguises substantial growth in departures,
from some 75,000 per month in October and November 2004 to about 98,000 in 2008.
The global financial crisis will probably mean that this growth will not be sustained into
2010.




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How long are they away?
An overwhelming majority of departures are short-term, with only 1,351 Victorians
leaving each month expecting to stay overseas for more than a year. The short-term
departures are not away for long. Their median length of stay is only two weeks
(though younger travellers in November stay away for a median of 20 days). Those
who are away for less than a month make up 77.7% of the total in October, and 70.5%
in November.




Long-term departures expect to be away for a median of 2.2 years.
How old are they?
Short-term departures are predominantly over 30, comprising 81% of the total in
October, and 73% in November. The higher numbers of younger departures in
November would be a consequence of the end of the academic year at that time, with
students heading overseas after their studies.




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Half of the long-term departures are aged 18-30. It is likely that many of these would
be young people going on a working holiday, and graduates seeking to further their
careers overseas.
Why do they go?
Information is available for short-term departures. Almost half of these people are
going on a holiday, and some 22% intend to visit friends and relatives. About 18% are
going overseas on business, and 5% are attending a convention or conference.
Younger travellers are much more likely to be going on a holiday (about 57% of the
total for 18-30 year olds), and less likely to be away for business reasons.
Where do they go?
Although short-term travellers scatter all over the world, there are only eight countries
that receive more than 4% of the total. New Zealand is by far the most popular
destination, followed by the United States and Thailand. The United Kingdom is
surprisingly low in fifth position, with 5.2% of the total. Younger travellers are more
inclined to head for Thailand and India, and less inclined to go to New Zealand and
Britain. India has become a much more popular destination over the last couple of
years.




It is quite a different picture for long-term departures. The United Kingdom is by far the
most popular destination, with an average of 32.5%. The United States, Hong Kong,
Singapore and Canada are significant destinations, and the United Arab Emirates are
small but increasing. All other destinations are very minor. Younger long-term
travellers are much more focussed on the United Kingdom (45.7%), less so on Canada
and the United States (about 8% each), and not at all on other countries. Clearly
Britain is the destination of choice for young people going overseas for an extended
working stay, while the other countries reflect the job opportunities for professionals.




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Implications of the departures data
Victorians overseas at the time of a State election fall into two very distinct groups:
short-term travellers and expatriate residents. Their characteristics and behaviour
vary, and voting information and services provided should cater for their particular
needs.
Given that most short-term travellers are away for only a couple of weeks, the best
time to get them to vote is before they leave. Early voting is available for two weeks
before election day, and departing travellers can vote at early voting centres at
Melbourne and Avalon Airports, which are the departure points for the great majority of
those going overseas. The VEC intends to stress early voting in its information
campaign for the 2010 State election, and to extend the operating hours of the
Melbourne Airport and Avalon early voting centres.
It is more difficult for travellers who are overseas throughout the election period. The
ABS data on travellers’ destinations will assist in planning services at overseas voting
centres. However, the number of these centres is unavoidably limited, and travellers
who are in another part of the country may not have enough time to arrange a postal
vote. It should be noted that the postal voting period in Victorian elections is only two
weeks, whereas in Federal elections it is three weeks. Travellers on holiday (who
comprise half of all short-term departures) are likely to be moving around and be
unable to reach a voting centre. Travellers on business trips may not have time to do
so. Alternative ways of voting (discussed below) may be helpful.




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For long-term overseas residents the key issues are motivation and information. The
number of such residents is hard to estimate. There were some 1,300 long-term
departures per month in October and November from 2004 to 2008. Taking into
account expatriates returning home, it is difficult to see these departure figures building
up into the very high numbers estimated by the Southern Cross Group. In any case,
regardless of the total number of Victorian expatriates, it is clear that only a relatively
small number are interested in voting in Australian elections. Australians who are
going overseas or are already overseas for no more than six years may apply to
register as overseas electors, maintaining their enrolment. As at 31 May 2006, there
were only 5,275 Victorian overseas electors, and currently there are 4,009. The
number of Victorian electors in the United Kingdom as at 6 February 2009 was no
more than 1,700. Although electors going overseas for less than a year can notify the
AEC of their temporary absence, only some 6,000 are currently in this position It is
likely that a majority of long-term departures are not interested in voting while they are
overseas – it is something they will get back to when they return home. It should be
remembered that half of those leaving for more than a year are under 31, and that
young people tend to be less inclined to participate in elections.
There are several ways in which the VEC can inform and motivate Victorians overseas.
In view of the small numbers involved, any communication activities would have to be
well targeted or the costs would be prohibitive. Australians going overseas are
encouraged to register with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).
DFAT’s website states that the registration may be used to pass information, including
notice of elections. If the VEC was able to obtain access to the DFAT database, it
would be able to email and SMS those registered. Before the election, the VEC could
encourage Victorians on the database to register as overseas electors and as general
postal voters (which means that they would be sent ballot papers without having to
apply for them). During the election, the VEC could remind those registered about the
election and their voting options. Similarly, the VEC could use the Agent-General’s
database of “Victorians Abroad”. These measures would not require legislative change
and would be cost-effective.
A halfway house to on-line voting would be to adopt the New Zealand system. Under
this system, New Zealand electors overseas can access the election website and
download a ballot paper and declaration. Only correctly identified enrolled electors are
able to do this. Having completed their ballot paper and declaration, the voter posts or
faxes it to an election office. This system would assist both long-term overseas
electors and short-term travellers. Most overseas residents would have email
addresses, and many travellers, particularly young ones, go on-line during their trip.
Another possibility would be to adapt the Victorian method of assisting Antarctic
electors. Victorian electors who are stationed in the Antarctic are flagged as Antarctic
electors on the register. During an election, the VEC emails them their ballot papers.
Antarctic voters complete their ballot papers and email them back to the VEC, where
they are transcribed onto standard ballot papers and placed in a declaration envelope
to preserve the secrecy of their vote. A similar process might be considered for
overseas electors, possibly with the electors needing to apply for a PIN as a first step.

Elections in other States
Since the 2006 Victorian State election, general elections have been held in New
South Wales, Western Australia, Queensland and the territories. There have also
been by-elections in New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia, South
Australia and the Northern Territory. These elections may provide prima facie points of
comparison.


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The recent Queensland State election attracted keen media interest, and the
participation rate rose by 0.47 percentage points to 90.93%. The informal voting rate
(under an optional preferential system) was 1.94%.
The September 2008 Western Australian State election resulted in a change of
government. The voter participation rate was 86.48% - a decline from 89.84% at the
2005 election. The informal voting rate was 5.33%. The voting system in Western
Australia is very similar to that in Victoria.
At the New South Wales State election in March 2007, 92.67% of enrolled electors
voted, and the informal voting rate (with optional preferential voting) was 2.69%.
At the Northern Territory election in August 2008, the voter turnout rate was 75.65%
and 4.08% of voters voted informally.
At the Australian Capital Territory election in October 2008, the voter participation rate
was 90.4% and the informal voting rate was 3.8%. The ACT has a Hare-Clark
proportional representation system.
State by-election results are set out below:


By-Election            Date                    Participation          Informal
                                               (Voters as % of        (Informal as % of
                                               Electors)              Voters)

Peel (WA)              3 February 2007         79.54%                 3.61%

Greatorex (NT)         28 July 2007            73.75%                 2.23%

Brisbane Central       13 October 2007         67.66%                 3.95%
(Qld)

Murdoch (WA)           23 February 2008        74.72%                 3.22%

Cabramatta (NSW)       18 October 2008         86.05%                 3.05%

Lakemba (NSW)          18 October 2008         80.40%                 4.11%

Port Macquarie         18 October 2008         88.21%                 1.85%
(NSW)

Ryde (NSW)             18 October 2008         83.64%                 2.04%

Frome (SA)             17 January 2009         89.79%                 2.88%



Suggested legislative changes
In its previous supplementary submission, the VEC suggested a number of legislative
changes which may assist to improve electoral participation. These included:


   •   Amending the Electoral Regulations 2002 to enable electronic voting by
       Victorians interstate and overseas;
   •   Extending the electronic voting franchise to include voters with physical
       disabilities and voters with poor English-language proficiency;

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   •   Providing for on-line and telephone voting;
   •   Allowing enrolment forms in different languages;
   •   Enabling electoral visitation to the homes of electors with disabilities; and
   •   Providing for the creation of an electoral education trust fund, to be funded by
       the proceeds of compulsory voting.

Points one, two and three relate to electronic voting and are addressed in the first
section of this paper.
The recent research conducted amongst the Chinese and Vietnamese communities
indicated a strong desire to have enrolment forms in language, particularly for those
with no English skills at all. This would present some challenges from an
administrative view in terms of translating and registering the enrolment form – given
that enrolment forms are joint forms with the AEC, that organisation would have to
have some buy-in to this initiative too. Subsequently, the VEC has determined that a
superior approach would be to develop in-language companion forms to be provided
with the enrolment form – as opposed to a translated enrolment form itself.
The recent research conducted amongst electors with a disability indicated that for
those with extreme disabilities and where there are no suitable alternatives, that
electoral officials may assist them in their homes in terms of assistance with voting.
Whilst postal voting may work for a proportion of these electors, it is not viable for
people with little or no sight who do not have family members or friends who can
complete forms on their behalf.
The suggestion of an electoral education trust fund has been suggested to the EMC
previously, to vastly expand a successful pilot program the VEC has developed called
‘Passport to Democracy’. This program targets the extremely under-represented
sector of youth and seeks to make the connection between politics and their own
interests and issues. In 2009, the VEC will be running the program out to 10-15
schools (a number of classes each). Budget constraints prohibit the program being
delivered to a much larger number of schools at this time. If the VEC was permitted to
redirect the proceeds of compulsory voting monies into an electoral education trust
fund, the program could be rolled out to up to 300 schools across the State over the
next few years.




Steve Tully
30 April 2009




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