The Australian Capital Territory’s electoral commission has quietly acknowledged that the electronic vote counting system used in the ACT election miscounted the votes, losing 16 votes for at least one candidate.
On Monday, Thinking Cybersecurity CEO and cryptographer Vanessa Teague tweeted that an updated distribution of preferences for the ACT Legislative Assembly’s election results had changed the number of votes given to a candidate.
5/8: with this corrected one from March '21. (https://t.co/Hj5kf926wa)
— Vanessa Teague (@VTeagueAus) March 29, 2021
“Compare @EmmadavidsonACT’s last few vote counts in this official DoP from 2020…” she posted. “with this corrected one from March ’21. You’ll notice that she gained 16 votes.”
This comes after a campaign by Teague for the territory’s electoral commission, Elections ACT, to open up the source code for its electronic voting and counting systems for scrutiny.
According to Elections ACT, the territory has used electronic voting but the ABC reports that it was the first time that a majority of votes were cast electronically in a major Australian election.
Teague, along with others, had been calling for more scrutiny over code for the electronic voting systems.
While computers tend to be better than people at basic maths (source: me versus my calculator), elections are extremely complicated and rely on humans to do the right calculations in the first place.
Electronic counting machines have to be programmed to deal with the various intricacies of each electoral system. The ACT, for example, uses Hare-Clark preferential voting, which has to be specifically input into machines.
When the electoral results were first published, researcher Andrew Conway estimated that there were discrepancies of up to 20 votes in some cases.
After Elections ACT told the ACT’s Justice and Community Safety Committee that errors were less than a vote, results released on March 22 2021 show that to be untrue.
While this number of votes wouldn’t have shifted the election, the point is that ACT’s electronic vote counting systems are fallible and deserve scrutiny (something we know already). Bugs happen. What’s important is that these incredibly important systems are transparent so we can be sure that democracy is being served properly.