With the Presidential elections looming up, some have been asking why the United States is not making more of electronic voting. It’s being adopted in many other countries around the world, with India, Brazil, Estonia, Norway and Switzerland as notable examples. However, the United States has several examples in recent years where it has backed out of electronic voting that it had already implemented. For example, in 2010, a trial system for remote voting over the Internet in Washington DC (known as the “Digital vote by mail”) was shown to be vulnerable, when it was penetrated by a research team from the University of Michigan, demonstrating how a real attack could render any results unsound, without detection. The attack was documented in a recent paper by researchers from the University of Michigan. So who is right?
First, it’s important to differentiate between the types of e-voting. To some it means using controlled kiosks in polling stations which collect the votes locally. For others it means those kiosks sending the votes to some central collection system. To others, e-voting is about being able to vote remotely, typically over the Internet. In all cases, the key element of e-voting is that the vote is captured and processed electronically. This has several perceived benefits:
- More people will be minded to vote. This has obvious advantages as the turnout in developed democracies around the world is often very disappointing, except in countries where it is a legal requirement to vote, such as Austrlia.
- Accessibility: technology can assist blind and partially sighted voters, and those with mobility impairments, to cast their vote. It can also offer instructions in a range of languages without the cost of printing large numbers of ballot forms in each language.
- Handling votes at long distances can be done much more quickly and reliably. Voters can vote from anywhere in the world without the need to post ballots or ship ballot boxes.
Given that we already do online banking and shopping, and even remotely vote for popular TV shows, what’s so different about electing our politicians through electronic voting? It comes down to two principles which are peculiar to these types of elections.