What happens to a mail-in ballot after mailing? (Part 2)

In my previous blog ‘Vantage point for Voting’, I was voicing my concerns on providing not only my name, my address but also a signature that identifies me and a date of birth that can compromise my identity more than the privacy of the ballot I have casted.

After several days of follow ups in my efforts to reach an AEC (Australian Electoral Commission), I did get a call back, not from an official from a local council election, but from an official from Federal elections.

The conversation that I had was indeed fruitful to know the process of counting a vote and the necessity of identifying the voter, but not so fruitful to comfort me with my apprehensions on compromises that can result from such a requirement. However, the requirement to provide a date of birth and signing the flap has been legislated, so no escape from that.

The requirement is based on the assumption that if the flap is received with only a signature, it might be difficult to assess whether the person has voted more than once or not. I can understand this if the voter has asked for a mail-in ballot and was sent to an address that he was previously residing, but was filled out and sent by a current resident who will be perceived as committing voting fraud when there are two flaps with two different signatures. This could happen only if the voter requests a mail-in ballot after registering that a ballot has not been received at his current address as he had failed to update the address with AEC in time for the elections. Due to a pandemic situation, all votes will be through mail and the possibility of a mail-in fraud can happen under these circumstances. However, ballot will not be counted twice as the true signature can be matched against the flaps received to discard the wrong ones.

This can be done as AEC maintains the signature verification process to validate the ballot and we can be certain that our vote is indeed counted.

Let me now take up the second requirement that a date of birth is required on flap. This is required only if the situation mentioned earlier indeed results in no wrong doing as there could be two John Doe(s) with two different signatures and to ascertain that there is no mailing fraud, the date of birth can be used to validate the ballots. Without this, it would have been difficult for an AEC official to determine correctly the validity of the ballot.

Ok, I will accept that this is required under these circumstances where there might lot of John Doe(s). Now let me address the next critical part of the privacy of my vote and potential compromise to my identity.

I was told that because of the ways in which the ballot paper is put back into the envelop by the voter, any kind of automated process that guarantees no destruction of the ballot paper does not exist and must be done manually. I question that, but let me accept that briefly here to present some scenarios.

While the process mandates that flaps must be removed before the envelope is opened, remains a process subjected to human errors. If AEC had taken extra ordinary measures to receive a valid ballot, I am surprised that it has not take similar measures to ensure there is no room for human errors in the process. Unless the process is automated, there is room of human errors.

Next comes a question of how long those flaps are retained. Again, the answer is that once the voter is ticked off as voted, there is no need for that and the destruction is almost immediate. It is again a manual process and without any guarantee that some of them may not get destroyed accidentally if some of those flaps accidentally find their way into a bin or to someone’s coat pocket. I am not a conspiracy theorist, but I am creating an awareness where all voters, collectively, can enforce random scrutiny of such processes or get their voices heard to make amendments to the processes.

If I am asked on how I would ensure that there no errors in destroying the flaps, I would say that I will have to use the currently available technologies to ensure that without making my details and my signature and my date of birth visible to any prying eyes. Answers to this will be in my next blog.

I never intended this to be multi-part blog on one subject. But my research has been interrupted by delayed communications from AEC officials and for that I ask for patience and also forgiveness.