Council elections prove test of new application

THE Western Australian Electoral Commission has computerised its local government electoral process, forming an alliance with local software developer Beacon Technology and technology giant Microsoft.

The new system manages the election process through a web-based application that processes the information in real time and copes with all voting scenarios.

The system is an Australian first according to WA Electoral Commission manager information systems Desmond Chenik who said that while electoral commissions in other States had computerised their systems, WA was the only State that processed information in real time.

Mr Chenik said the system was initially conceived out of a desire to streamline the local government election process and remove the greater margin for error from excess manual processing of votes.

After minor teething problems the system was put to use in the recent local government elections coping with 54 local councils and about one million voters.

Beacon Technology director Glen Hunter said that considering the relatively short timeframe involved with developing the software, the project was an excellent example of how local government and big business could work together successfully on a major project.

Beacon Technology’s major market is providing bespoke software solutions to small to medium-sized enterprises. It won the tender through the WA Government’s SPIRIT tendering framework against five other firms.

The design of the system took about six months and the development of the system took about four months to complete.

The system uses Microsoft.Net technology and allows returning officers to log on and scan the votes before transferring them in a secure environment.

The triumvirate issued a CD that automatically installs the software on the client machine leaving a two megabyte foot-print.  Electoral staff were given training.

The CD installs the .NET framework and a small executable program on the client machine allowing the system to be used on modem speeds as low as 28.8kbps. 

Mr Chenik said that because only encrypted data was being transferred, the process was fast with the system only utilising about 2 or 3 per cent of available server capacity.

He said the new system was working proof of concept for bigger projects such as the State elections.

“The total budget was about $500,000 which included hardware, software, training, networking and the establishment of internal and external processes,” Mr Chenik said.

There are 90 polling places for State elections and the computerised electoral system is to be extended in time for the poll that could be held as early as June next year.

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