Digital democracy: NSW Electoral Commission’s vote of confidence in AC3

A person’s right to vote – and to know their vote is secure and counted correctly – is key to a democracy. That is the responsibility the New South Wales Electoral Commission (NSWEC) shared with AC3 when it implemented the iVote® electronic voting and verification system for the 2015 NSW State election.

The Customer

The NSW Electoral Commissioner is responsible for the enrolment of electors, electoral rolls and conducting State and Local Government elections. The Commissioner originally introduced iVote remote electronic voting for the 2011 State election to enable visually-impaired and other electors who would find it difficult or impossible to vote otherwise due to disability or location (such as being interstate or overseas) to vote via telephone or internet-connected computer.

The 2011 success saw nearly 50,000 electors use the iVote® system. The NSWEC then chose to roll out iVote for the 2015 State election, with a key innovation: the ability for voters using iVote to verify their ballot was captured as they intended. This Verification Service was delivered via a telephone IVR system during the voting period and also provided a means for NSWEC to have independent confirmation that the votes being counted matched the Verification Service votes that had been verified by the voters.

The Challenge

The Commission takes the security of all its systems, including iVote, very seriously. When you introduce electronic voting to the mix, you have to ensure the community will trust the outcome: Security, protection and validity of the data are paramount. 

AC3 had to provide a robust, easily-accessible iVote Verification Service and ensure the application was always available for people to verify their vote at any time during the two-week voting window leading up to the election.

Critically, the system had to satisfy the most stringent security protocols to ensure no votes were tampered with and the system was not compromised in any way.

The Solution

The solution saw AC3 deliver a secure cloud hosting environment for the iVote Verification Service.

AC3 provided its state-of-the-art infrastructure as a service (IaaS) solution to NSWEC from AC3’s own secure data centres, with connectivity back to the NSWEC through a dedicated point-to-point link.

Secure internet gateways provided the required protections needed to ensure all security protocols were met for an uncompromised result. Safeguards were put in place to protect the vote from risks including tampering, hackers and fraud, with multiple layers of protection and monitoring to ensure election integrity and voter secrecy and privacy.

To check their iVote was captured correctly, electors called the verification phone service and entered their receipt number, iVote Number and PIN. If their vote was not correct, they could be directed to the iVote call centre to cancel their vote, re-register and re-vote.

The Verification System included full logging and monitoring of all relevant system activities and configuration changes, collected by a separate logging server. The logs did not contain any information that identified any voters’ ballot preferences, maintaining voter privacy.

The Results

The Electoral Commission entrusted one of its most mission-critical applications to AC3 – and AC3 delivered.

There were zero breaches, zero system failures and zero downtime for the entire time the system was live. 

Anyone who attempted verification was successful in reaching the verification phone line and the application never failed.

After the election, data and logs were handed over to independent auditors who confirmed there were no successful breaches and that the system operated as intended, with integrity and accuracy.

The NSWEC applauded AC3 for delivering an error-free implementation solution of a critical application: 

The NSWEC CIO Ian Brightwell said: “We came to AC3 with a tough project on a tight timeline. They pulled out all stops and delivered admirably. Their management also provided independent governance for the system, which was an important part our overall security strategy”.

The 2015 iVote implementation put NSW at the forefront of online voting worldwide. A total of 283,669 electors cast their vote through the iVote system – a world record for returning an electronic ballot for a binding parliamentary election – with around two per cent verifying their votes.

It improved access to voting for groups of electors who otherwise would have found it difficult to vote independently or vote at all, while the added ability to verify their vote providing assurances around the integrity of electronic voting to the community.

Future Plans

The success of the 2015 election gives the NSWEC a template for future elections, including at State and Local Government levels.

As awareness of the iVote option grows, an increase in user numbers is to be expected as voters embrace the convenience, proven security and effectiveness of the system.

Broader implementation of the verifiable electronic voting system could deliver more widespread benefits – such as faster results, with votes able to be tallied electronically immediately after polls close ­– and less potential for error or manipulation compared to manual counting and voting methods, with logged data providing a verified, irrefutable single source of truth.