Tuesday, May 09, 2006.
BLIND and vision-impaired Australians are calling on the federal Government to allow them to vote electronically at the next election, saying it is their democratic right to cast a secret vote.
A Senate committee last year recommended that electronic voting be tried in booths in all electorates at the next election, due in 2007.
None of the required legislative changes have been drafted, as a decision on the October recommendation has not been made.
Groups representing vision-impaired people said at this late stage in planning they would be happy with a more limited trial in electorates known to have a large number of blind voters.
There are more than 50,000 blind or vision-impaired people living in Australia and at present none can vote unassisted (except in the ACT), which means someone else knows their political preferences, or can change the preference.
"Our fear is that if they don't trial electronic voting 2007 we won't get anywhere until at least 2010 if not later," Vision Australia policy manager Michael Simpson said.
"It's important because all people who are Australian citizens are required by law to vote.
"Citizens who can't lodge a vote independently don't have same right as other citizens. They have to rely on someone else to reflect their position.
"We believe it's well within the scope of the Government and the Australian Electoral Commission to approve and undertake a limited trial at the 2007 election.
"It doesn't need to be such a comprehensive trial as the committee indicated."
Mr Simpson suggested a trial in selected electorates known to have a large number of vision-impaired people -- such as Lowe in Sydney, and Kooyong in Melbourne.
No one was suggesting internet voting as an option, he said.
"There are two ways of doing this. Either electronic voting with a standalone system taking and accumulating the votes, or electronically assisted voting that uses adaptive technology and a computer to complete a ballot paper that is printed and lodged as per usual."
The Electoral Commission was "a little nervous" about electronically assisted voting because it would require extra equipment and security support, he said.
Blind Citizens Australia president Robert Altamore, who has voted electronically at the last two ACT government elections, said cost should not be an issue.
"This is about blind or vision-impaired Australians enjoying the same democratic right as all other Australians to cast an independent, secret and verifiable vote," Mr Altamore said.
"That's a fundamental right in a democracy."
Blind Citizens Australia, a government-funded peak advocacy group, has suggested that the Government use an electronic system to allow individuals to vote electronically, print out their ballot paper and then lodge it in the usual way.
"We would also be happy to assess other options," he said. "Since I was 18 I have depended on the assistance of another person to cast my vote, firstly my mother and then my wife. Many blind people do not have trusted family members they can rely on for help.
"It's not about the money or the number who would benefit from a change to electronic voting, it's about giving all people the same rights in our democratic process."
Mr Simpson said some politicians were projecting their nervousness about a "a potential new world of internet voting" and did not understand that electronic voting could still occur in a polling place.
End of article.
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