Here we go again. There’s been an election in Australia, so once more, with all the regularity of a cuckoo clock, politicians and pundits alike are proposing that electronic voting is the answer. So, here we go again, explaining why it’s a bad idea. First, if e-voting is the answer, what is the actual question? Here’s what troubles people this time. … Broadly speaking, there’s two kinds of e-voting: voting over the internet, and voting in person at polling stations where votes are recorded on computers rather than paper ballots. Whichever kind of e-voting we’re talking about, it has to solve a conundrum. How do we provide the complete transparency of process needed to eliminate fraud, while still maintaining the secrecy of individuals’ votes? As I wrote in 2011, transparency is the tricky bit. “Our paper voting system is easy to understand. Anyone with working eyesight and who can read and count can scrutineer the process. No special skills are required,” I wrote.
… Dr Vanessa Teague is a cryptographer at the University of Melbourne who studies the cryptographic protocols used by electronic voting systems. She summarised the state of the art of internet voting for the Corrupted Nerds podcast in 2013. “There isn’t a secure solution for voting over the internet. There isn’t a good way of authenticating voters, that is making sure that the person at the other end of the connection is the eligible voter they say they are. There isn’t an easy usable way of helping voters to make sure that the vote they send is the vote they wanted, even if their PC is infected with malware, or administered by someone who wants to vote differently,” Teague said.
“Although there are some techniques for providing evidence that encrypted votes have been properly decrypted and tallied, it’s hard to scale those techniques to large Australian elections.” As Teague details in the podcast, and as I’ve already described, many of the same problems exist for stand-alone voting systems.
In November 2015 I spoke with Teague again, asking her whether anything has changed. “Not really,” she said. “If anything, we’ve had some specific examples that back up the argument I was making about the importance of transparency, and the importance of making sure that the system really does guarantee that people can verify that it gets the right answer.”