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Thursday, 26 July 1906

Senator PEARCE (Western Australia) . - I move -

That the Bill be now read a second time.

I trust that, if possible, honorable senators will allow the Bill to be read a second time this afternoon, so that there may be a chance of getting it passed this session if it should command a majority in both Houses. It is not a very lengthy or very important measure, and therefore I do nol propose to occupy very much time in explaining its provisions. It provides that if a voting machine be approved of by the electoral authorities, then both Houses may, by resolution, authorize its use at approved polling places. It would be a singular thing if, with all the advances in machinery, the inventive geniuses of those countries in which representative government obtains were not trying to discover some less cumbersome, more economical, and safer me' hod of voting than the somewhat oldfashioned methods which are in vogue in various countries. Australia is, of course, very proud of the fact that practically she originated the secret ballot, but I do not think it can be said that that is the epitome of nil wisdom in methods of voting, and that we shall never get beyond that point. In this country and the United States there have been minds at work perfecting machines for recording votes at elections. In some of the cities and States in the United States voting machines are in actual use, and with satisfactory results. In 'this country several voting machines have been patented, and some of them have stood very severe tests. Honorable senators have had an opportunity of seeing some of them at work within the precincts of this building, and apparently they met all the tests which could be applied to them.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - What is the particular purpose of the voting machine ?

Senator PEARCE - It automatically records each vote, and counts the votes, so that immediately after an election is concluded, one can see the number of votes recorded for each candidate in a certain portion of the machine, which, of course, is locked up during the progress of the election, the keys being in the possession of the returning officer.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - It mightdestroy the secrecy of the ballot if it were opened.

Senator PEARCE - Not more so than in the case of a ballot-box. If the returning officer wished to outrage the secrecy of the ballot he could open a ballot-box.

Senator Mulcahy - There is a possibility of danger where there are two systems in use.

Senator PEARCE - There is just as much possibility of a returning officer opening a ballot-box as of his opening a voting machine. In the case of some of these machines the plate which covers the numbers could be kept sealed by the returning officer just as he seals a ballot-box. He would have to break the seal in order to open the plate which discloses the number of votes recorded, just as he would have to break the seal of a ballot-box. So that if there is any objection to foe urged on that score it applies equally to both systems

Senator Mulcahy - The ballot-paper would not be the same in each case.

Senator PEARCE - There are no ballotpapers in the case of a voting machine. There is nothing in the objection, because if a returning officer wished to do so he could just as easily open a bo lot-box as a voting machine.

Senator Staniforth Smith - There are machines which apparently meet all objections.

Senator PEARCE - Yes. Two voting machines have been in actual operation within the precincts of the 'building. Honorable senators were invited to put them to every test, and apparently they failed to find any flaw in them. I recognise, however, that before any voting machine could be adopted the electoral authorities would 'have to toe thoroughly satisfied that it met all requirements. So far as I have been able to learn, the. only objection made by the electoral authorities to the use of the machines - I have been told this unofficially - was that there cannot be a recount of the votes in the case of a dispute. That objection overlooks the fact that there is noi' the same necessity for a recount when a machine is used, as when ballot-papers are employed, because with a machine the counting goes on automatically, and there are no informal votes. There can be no fault in the counting, because it is done automatically, -and in the case of some machines a bell is struck as soon as a vote is recorded. Consequently, if the mechanism got out of order, the returning officer would immediately know it. Therefore, there is not the same necessity for a recount when a machine is used as in the case of ballotpapers, where the accuracy of the count' depends upon those who are conducting it. If honorable senators will turn to Vol. I. of the Papers of the House of Representatives for the session 1904 they will find the report of the Select Committee appointed to inquire into the conduct of elections held under the Electoral Act. The possibility of voting machines being used at elections was brought under the notice of that Committee, and four representatives of inventors gave evidence, and explained the working of their machines. The Committee, in its report, page 323, section 18, said: -

In considering the complaints of delay in expediting the making up of results of elections, your Committee took evidence as to the use of voting machines. Several different mechanical contrivances were placed before the Committee by Messrs. King Hedley, F. A. Peters, J. F. Higgins, and Horace Harding. It is apparent "that such contrivances may be of great value to populous polling-places in securing economy, expedition in the making up of results, and avoid-' ancc of informalities; but for various reasons -they are difficult to utilize in the outlying dis.tricts. Your Committee are not in a position to adjudicate satisfactorily upon the practical results of the use of such contrivances in other countries, or upon the value of the respective machines submitted to them, but consider that the Electoral Department should institute immediate inquiries to see if it is possible to adopt any of the machines in the large centres of population. The adoption would, of course, need statutory authority.

One of the representatives of the machines, Mr. King Hedley, gave evidence which is reported on page 407. He was examined as to the practicability of employing voting" machines under our present system, cr with the block vote, or with the preferential system of voting. He explained fully the use of his machine, and said, in answer to question 974, put to him by Mr. Fowler -

Any information which I give to the Committee may be authenticated by application to the proper authorities in the United States. The total vote passed at elections in Buffalo usually represents about 64 per cent, of the electors. When the ballot-papers were in use there were 165 electoral districts in that city, and the number of voters in each district ranged from 300 to 500. When the voting machines were installed, the number of districts were reduced to 108, and each contained from 500 to 800 electors.

Then he gave the cost of holding elections previous to the introduction of the machines, as compared with the cost after their introduction. The total cost from 1895 to 1898 was $198,514. For the four succeeding years, when electoral machines were in use, the total cost of elections was $130,000, or $68,000 less than under the ballot system. Mr. Joseph F. Higgins explained that the cost of the machine which he represented was about £12.Mr. Horace Harding explained that the machines in which he was interested could be supplied at from -£7 to each. It will be recognised that one of the chief items of cost in the conduct of elections is the printing of ballot-papers. If we were able to introduce a machine to meet all the requirements, it would be cheaper, there would be fewer officers, to be employed in the conduct of elections, and as soon as the polling, had ceased the returning officer immediately on opening the machine could give out the number of votes recorded. The consequence would be that as soon as the election was completed, the result would be known. On these grounds we are, I think, justified1 in giving to the electoral authorities power to make the necessary inquiries, when if they are satisfied they can come to Parliament and enable us to say that the approved machine shall be used in the conduct of our elections. One other amendment is made in the electoral law by means qf this Bill. It is one of considerable importance. It will be recollected that when the first Electoral Bill came before Parliament, in order to prevent slanderous printed matter being circulated' prior to an election, a provision was inserted - section 180 of the Act of 1902 - which was intended to sheet home to those who were guilty of such practices, the re- sponsibility for the publication of the slanders. Section 180 reads -

In addition to bribery and undue influence, the following shall be illegal practices - (

The next paragraph, b, is similar except that the following words are inserted between brackets - [Other than an advertisement in a .newspaper.]

It was held that if a pamphlet or handbill were issued without a printer's name it would be impossible to trace the author, but in the case of the newspaper there were means of finding out the publisher. In the case of the newspaper there was some guarantee that some one would be responsible for the slander or libel. When the amending Bill was being dealt with in r905> paragraph a was amended to make it read similarly with paragraph b ; that is to say, section 57 of the amending Bill was made to read as follows : -

Section 180 of the Principal Act is amended by inserting in paragraph (a), after the word " advertisement," " other than- an advertisement announcing the holding of a meeting in a newspaper."

Senator Pulsford - What is meant by " the holding of a meeting in a newspaper " ?

Senator PEARCE - It is the advertisement in the newspaper that is referred to. But a mistake was made when those words were inserted. We did not say that the words should be put in brackets, as they are in paragraph b of section 180 of the principal Act. The result is that not only have we excluded newspaper advertisements, tout we have also excluded all classes of advertisements, placards, handbills, pamphlets, and everything else. By inserting those words .without brackets we defeated the very object at which we were aiming, and we have made it possible for a person to issue placards, handbills, or anything of the kind without hindrance. What we intended to do was to make an exception of an advertisement in a newspaper, but we did not carry out our intention, simply because we did not insert the words in brackets in conformity with paragraph b of section 180.

Senator Mulcahy - The honorable senator's amending Bill does not make the point very clear.

Senator PEARCE - I think it does.

Senator Mulcahy - It is badly drafted, that is all.

Senator PEARCE - The drafting is not mine. I point out 10 the honorable senator that all the Bill does is to amend the Act of 1905 by inserting a bracket at the beginning and the end of the words " other than an advertisement announcing the holding of a meeting in a newspaper." I trust that honorable senators will see that thereis serious reason for this amendment, because in the amending Act of 1905, we have practically repealed the legislation of the Act of 1902. It is absolutely essential that we should have some safeguard against highly objectionable practices. I need not detain the Senate longer. I recognise that there is not a great deal to be said on the subject. With regard to votingmachines, the Bill merely gives a permissive power to our electoral authorities, placing them in the position of being ableto make inquiries, and to test any machinethat any inventive genius may bring: before them. If they find a machinethat will answer all the requirements they can take steps to have it adopted. Themachine which was at work in the precinctsof this Chamber some time ago was the invention of two gentlemen named Stacey and' Adare, and every one who saw it was convinced of its effectiveness, of its secrecy, and of the expedition and economy withwhich elections could be conducted by its means. I have much pleasure in moving; the second reading of the Bill.

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