Digitisation of elections in Australia induces new vulnerabilities that malign foreign entities can exploit to subvert our democratic sovereignty. Problems such as inauthenticity, data insecurity, and disinformation are amplified in today’s epoch of ‘digital era governance.’ Following the global trend, Australian elections are digitising: electronic ballots, electronic certified lists, electronic scrutiny and electronic data are rapidly becoming part of the status quo, though the extent of digitisation varies across state and federal jurisdictions.
Despite this threat landscape, Australia’s digital-analogue hybridity safeguards federal elections from hard cyber security risks (e.g. hacking) that might seek to directly tamper with votes and data. However, elections are vulnerable to soft cyber risks (e.g. information operations). The electoral system’s core weakness lies in the time and space between elections: in this period, malign foreign entities (MFEs) can exploit deliberation in the public sphere due to its open circulation of information which they can manipulate with digital disinformation.
- Australia’s federal elections are relatively secure from hard cyber security risks due to digital-analogue hybridity in electoral processes.
- Analogue processes protect preference articulation from digital data manipulation.
- However, Australia’s federal elections are vulnerable to soft cyber security risks due to the prevalence of digital disinformation.
- Disinformation has the potential to distort the preference formation and agenda-setting phases of democratic deliberation.
- Interference in elections, or even a widespread perception of interference, can diminish the legitimacy of electoral outcomes.
- Disinformation has the potential to erode social cohesion and jeopardise democratic values that define Australia’s political system.