Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

Electronic Voting: Benefits and Risks

Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

Electronic Voting: Benefits and Risks

Article excerpt

New areas of fraud have been high on the research agenda of the Australian Institute of Criminology for some time. While much of our research has focused on the difficult issues to do with financial fraud, electoral fraud can also have serious ramifications for the government and the community.

Recent investigations into electoral matters, such as the inquiry conducted for the Criminal Justice Commission in Queensland (as it then was), have raised many criminal justice issues to do with the conduct of ballots. The integrity of an electoral system is a fundamental bulwark against corruption and the ability of organised groups within the community to misuse democratic institutions for improper purposes. New technologies can both assist and hinder those wishing to perpetrate electoral fraud.

Already many trials have taken place of electronic voting procedures in both the private and public sectors in an attempt to reduce costs, improve voter participation and enhance efficiency in conducting ballots. In the Australian Capital Territory, the Legislative Assembly election held on 20 October 2001 allowed some voters to cast their votes using computers located at polling stations in order to enhance the efficiency of the ballot process. But will electronic voting be subject to the same problems of security and manipulation that have occurred in the context of business transactions? This paper tests the effectiveness of electronic voting against eight essential requirements that any electoral process needs to satisfy in order for elections to be conducted both freely and fairly in modern societies.

Adam Graycar


In both the public and private sectors there is a need to record people's views when decisions are made. Examples include choosing the office bearers of a club, casting votes at meetings of corporations or in parliamentary sittings, and choosing individuals to become members of parliament, or heads of government.

The essential requirements for such activities to be conducted freely and fairly are:

* the need to record information and to have the results available quickly (timeliness);

* the need to have a system that is accessible to all and easy to use (accessibility);

* the need to ensure secrecy of what takes place (secrecy) - except where open elections are called for;

* the need for voting to be undertaken seriously, after due deliberation (deliberation);

* the ability to ensure that each individual's vote is recorded and counted accurately (accuracy);

* the need to guard against manipulation and interference with information once recorded (security);

* the need to ensure that individuals cannot be impersonated (authentication); and

* the need to verify what has taken place through the use of traceable information trails (verifiability).

Achieving these objectives raises difficult practical issues where the votes of large numbers of people are to be recorded - although the principles are much the same whether one is recording votes from a five-member committee or the entire population of India.

This paper examines the benefits that digital technologies have in achieving these objectives, and considers whether they are able to do so better, in terms of meeting the above objectives, than the procedures that operate at present. It also considers how crime and corruption in the electoral process can be minimised through the use of computerised voting procedures. In order to focus the discussion, this paper will primarily examine parliamentary voting procedures within Australia, rather than voting in private sector organisations and within parliamentary chambers.

Voting Procedures and their Problems

Throughout history a wide range of procedures have been devised to record people's votes. The ancient Greeks, for example, voted by acclamation or a clash of spears on shields. Other means of voting over the ages have included casting pebbles in urns, the division of crowds into groups, or balloting with shells, disks or written papers. …

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