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Australia's marriage equality vote should take place online

It's the perfect job for Malcolm Turnbull and his Digital Transformation Office

Australia's government has all-but-decided the nation should go to a plebiscite to decide whether local marriage laws should be altered to permit same-sex marriage.

That vote should take place online.

For those who oppose the plebiscite, or alterations to the Marriage Act, an online vote could be palatable as be cheaper and less disruptive than a “show up and make a mark on paper” plebiscite.

For supporters of changes to the Marriage Act, an online vote surely has appeal because it will attract “digital natives”, younger voters who tend to be more supportive of same-sex marriage.

An online poll would also give Australia's new Digital Transformation Office (DTO) a moment to shine, by creating an event to drive signup for government services. The DTO yesterday announced it's now running government authentication networks. It's also released it's new API design guide this week. What better way for the DTO to encourage people to sign up for government accounts, and introduce the look and feel it proposes for all government web sites, than with a plebiscite? And what better way to test its APIs than to interface with the Australian Electoral Office to get the electoral roll plugged into an electronic plebescite?

There are wrinkles to be ironed out here. Privacy is important: signing up to vote in a plebiscite cannot be an automatic signup for other e-government services. Security is paramount.

Another problem is that, as currently envisaged, the plebiscite is viewed as non-binding. Failure of an e-voting system could therefore be used to dismiss the result of the poll. Which might just make for a fabulous crucible, because what government would welcome facing its citizens with news that the effort to create an online voting platform failed on the technical front, and therefore also failed democracy?

There's a political dimension to consider here, too, as Australia's communications minister Malcolm Turnbull conceived of and runs the DTO. Turnbull's electorate is also among Australia's most supportive of same-sex marriage. Even though the Liberal Party of which he is a a member is not enamoured of changes to the Marriage Act, Turnbull can satisfy his electorate, give his pet project of the DTO a meaty task with which to prove its worth and perhaps even offer the government a cheaper way to run the vote. ®

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