Election risks linger

AS local government elections draw near Perth council is scrambling to patch a number of “high risk” weaknesses in its vetting processes that could lead to election fraud.

Many of the risks identified by a recent audit relate to the troubled roll of property owners and occupiers; people who claim a vote because they own a non-residential property or rent a property in the city. 

It was identified as being a source of bogus voters by the City of Perth Inquiry, which found it “common practice” for people to invent sham leases to run for council or cast a vote.

Trying to keep out bogus voters was a headache in 2020.

A last minute surge of voter applications in 2020 led to undertrained council staff interpreting complex legislation throughout the weekend to get information on several thousand applications to the WA Electoral Commission in time.

The audit states there’s a “likely” risk (between 66 and 95 per cent) that “applications are inconsistently and/or incorrectly assessed resulting in errors and potentially non-compliance with the act”.

With applications closing August 28, the council’s governance staff are on a three-week leave ban to process the influx of applications, and an election coordinator has been employed for a three-month stint.

The council’s software for storing applicant information and the roll was also found to be hot garbage, or as the audit delicately puts it, a “problematic technology solution intended to be decommissioned”.

The audit says the software’s so complex anyone without a background in infotech can’t even fully use it, and the only person from the last election who was fully trained has switched to another department. 

And while it’s complex to use fully, it also hasn’t been secured, making it pretty simple for a staffer to blunder their way in and pilfer a copy or edit data even if they don’t understand the full workings.  The audit says the lack of security “increases the risk of error or possibly election fraud occurring which may not be detected”. 

There’s no time to replace the software before this election so the council will try to train up a new person to be fully across the byzantine program, and clamp down on who can make edits.

Councillors will have to decide whether to upgrade the software at the next budget. 

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