The UK may be taking its first, tentative steps towards introducing online voting with the establishment of a Commission on Digital Democracy. As so many of our routine tasks are going digital, the shift towards virtual polls seems like a natural progression. However, there are many technical issues that need to be ironed out and the stakes are very high. John Bercow, Speaker in the UK House of Commons, established the commission with a view to looking at how technology can be used to aid the democratic working of parliament, including online voting. This team would do well to take a look at what has, and has not, worked elsewhere around the world. Electronic voting can take a number of forms, including tallying votes by computer, using electronic equipment in polling stations and voting over the internet from the voter’s own computer or mobile device. Voting by phone is already used in entertainment shows, though multiple voting is possible and result-fixing has been known to happen. Internet voting is also carried out for professional societies, student unions and other forms of election. It works well when cost and desire to increase turnout are important factors and where the likelihood of an attack on the election is considered to be low. If we were to start using e-voting systems for electing political representatives, we’d need to be absolutely sure of their trustworthiness. Computer systems, including e-voting systems, can go wrong accidentally through software bugs, they can be hacked, and they can be subverted by corrupt insiders. Systems used in elections have been the subject of criticism for all these reasons, resulting in some cases from their withdrawal.
The potential frailties of e-voting systems have been demonstrated several times. In 2010, for example, researchers from Michigan State University successfully took over an internet voting system deployed by Washington DC, and managed to reach a position where they could have undetectably rigged the election. In the Netherlands, a campaign group called We Don’t Trust Voting Computers has even emerged to stop the use of such systems in elections.
As well as making sure security concerns are addressed, the design of an e-voting system also needs to provide verifiability. Independent checks and balances are needed to ensure that bugs, hacking and corruption are detectable and cannot have an impact on the election. Voters will want to know how they can be sure that the system has not corrupted, subverted or lost their votes.
This is particularly difficult in voting because voters have a secret ballot and are reliant on the system to handle it correctly. The interaction between a voter and the system is private and the vote recorded within the system should not be connected to the voter. This is in contrast to banking for example, where errors and theft are more easily detected.
Full Article: Digital voting is a game changer but we have to get it right.