It is a sign of the times that the Speaker of the House of Commons – not the first person that comes to mind as being part of the digital age – has established a Digital Democracy Commission to look into ways to re-imagine democracy for the connected world. With one important exception – that concerning online voting – its recommendations are sensible and to be welcomed. … Enabling people to vote online would indeed draw in many young people who otherwise wouldn’t vote, and that’s hugely important. So why am I against the idea? Well, the report quotes a good encapsulation of the key issues here by the Open Rights Group:
Voting is a uniquely difficult question for computer science: the system must verify your eligibility to vote; know whether you have already voted; and allow for audits and recounts. Yet it must always preserve your anonymity and privacy. Currently, there are no practical solutions to this highly complex problem and existing systems are unacceptably flawed.
Another warning [.pdf] comes from a formidable trio of security researchers in their submission to the Digital Democracy Commission:
In our view, the adoption of online voting technology would present extremely grave challenges to the integrity of UK elections, and risk disadvantaging significant sections of the population, which would present a real danger of undermining public confidence in democracy rather than strengthening it as the Commission rightly seeks to do.
Finally, people who oppose the use of new technology for well-established activities are sometimes accused of being Luddites and of letting their ignorance stand in the way of perfectly acceptable change. In the case of e-voting, we believe that the more familiar people are with the technology, the more they understand the very substantial risks that it poses to the democratic process. It is ignorance that leads people to suppose that e-voting is risk-free and desirable; and it is technical experts such as us (and our colleagues whose carefully-argued papers we have cited) who are cautioning against embracing e-voting for the foreseeable future.
For what it is worth, this is my view too, and I regard it as deeply regrettable that an otherwise welcome report should choose to ignore such a clear and strongly-worded warning to avoid online voting completely until its many problems are sorted out. In particularly, setting a specific and imminent date for its introduction is premature and extremely foolish. I hope others join me in urging the authorities to ignore this particular recommendation, while accepting the others.