Advocates for blind and visually impaired Australians have filed a human rights complaint against the NSW Electoral Commission for abandoning iVote with no replacement system for secure online voting.
In January, NSWEC suspended iVote to carry out an “extensive reconfiguration” of the platform after a technical glitch prevented an unknown number of people from voting in December’s local elections.
Vision Australia has expressed ‘serious concern’ over the move, with blind and visually impaired voters relying on iVote – seen as the ‘gold standard’ for accessibility – to vote independently, secretly and verifiable.
Two months later, the NSWEC went further, ruling out any use of iVote – the current version of which is to be phased out – for the state’s March 2023 general election, as well as any by-elections until then.
At the time, the commission said it would work with representatives of major iVote users, including voters who are blind or visually impaired, to “explore other ways to support their participation in the election”, namely telephone voting.
Now hack body Blind Citizens Australia has alleged that ‘the decision to stop using iVote amounts to unlawful disability discrimination’, with no alternative platform available in time for the election. of State of 2023.
The complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission said the cancellation of iVote “infringes the rights of people who are blind or partially sighted to participate in elections by voting in a secret, independent and verifiable manner”.
iVote was initially introduced only for blind and visually impaired voters in 2011 before a series of legislative changes extended the use of the system to others, more recently in the wake of the pandemic.
Over 94% of the over 1,100 voters who are blind or visually impaired who voted in the 2019 New South Wales election used iVote to vote. A total of 234,404 votes were cast by voters using the system in 2019.
Blind Citizens Australia CEO Sally Aurisch said that without a platform like iVote to vote secretly and independently, blind and visually impaired voters were denied their “right to a secret ballot”.
She said the peak body had “heard from members who were not comfortable using telephone voting” during the recent federal election.
“Not only do they have to declare their voting intentions to an outsider, but there’s no way to confirm that their votes are properly represented,” Aurisch said.
“Persons who are blind or partially sighted have the right to participate fairly and freely in elections.
“The decision to remove the only voting platform that really allowed us to participate also clearly fails to respect that right.”
Acknowledging iVote’s historic integrity issues, Blind Citizens Australia is calling for “the re-establishment of a fit-for-purpose online voting platform” for blind and visually impaired voters in time for the 2023 election in New -South Wales.
He previously urged NSWEC and the NSW Government to create a “secret, independent and verifiable voting platform that allows for a multifaceted approach to voting and balances access and security equally”.
Any future development of a new online voting platform should also be conducted in “consultation with our community…to ensure it is fit for purpose,” the tech body said in an open letter. earlier this year.
Replays of the December 2021 local elections took place in the Kempsey, Singleton and Shellharbour Ward A areas over the weekend after previous results were found to be void due to iVote technical issues.