NRMA drives a dotcom election

Election of a new board of directors for motoring body NRMA is shaping as a significant showcase for Internet-driven voting in Australia.

Launched this week and running to November 14, the election gives NRMA members a choice between casting their ballots via Internet or by traditional mail-in methods.

If Australia follows overseas trends, about 10 per cent will use the Internet, says Election.com, the election management company overseeing the NRMA ballot.

It is too soon to tell where the NRMA ratio will settle. However, the online component hit 16 per cent in a workplace certification poll conducted recently by Election.com for the NSW Police Association.

The NRMA election is the highest-profile Australian project undertaken by the New York-based company since it arrived here 15 months ago.

It is barred by Australian law from conducting federal elections for trade unions and is also prohibited from managing local government polls in most states.

That still gives it a wide latitude as an outsourcer of election processes for companies and associations, including employee polls required under enterprise agreement legislation.

The elections it handles typically are hybrid affairs in which 90 per cent of the vote is delivered by traditional means and 10 per cent arrives online, says Australia managing director Frank Nesci.

But the online option is gaining ground despite corporate rulebooks forming a barrier as company constitutions may need changing.

While reluctant to generalise, Nesci estimated electronic voting delivers a 30 per cent cost decrease compared with paper ballots.

Electronic elections also produce results at breakneck speed compared with paper procedures.

Outcomes are available within one to five minutes after closure of voting in an eight-hour election run for an organisation as a full online ballot, Nesci said.

One stumbling block still remaining is uneasiness about the security aspects of online voting.

In the NRMA election, about two million voting packs have been mailed out which include unique Personal Identification Numbers and membership numbers.

Those numbers are matched against membership registration records to authenticate and validate voters as they log on to cast their ballot.

In the process, their PIN code is consumed, blocking a voter from casting multiple votes.

Election.com's software can also quiz voters by asking a random subset of questions based on their personal membership details.

Nesci concedes that mailing out PIN codes is not an ideal security solution. But more rigorous procedures, such as smartcards and digital signatures, will require more general uptake before it becomes cost-effective for online polling.

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