Several advantages of online voting were identified in a recent post by Conversation columnist and software researcher David Glance who backed the introduction of such a scheme in Australia. He is correct that an online voting system would be faster, more convenient and have fewer accidental informal votes. It would also reduce the donkey vote problem (though the “donkey vote” bias can also be dealt with by the use of Robson rotation on printed ballots). But in my view he dismisses the very real risks not only of actual election tampering, but something equally important – the confidence that Australian elections aren’t being tampered with. A vote-counting system not only needs to be secure against threats to its integrity, it needs to be seen to be secure against such threats. The right technologies, deployed in the right way, can assist with speeding up vote counts without putting the integrity of our voting system at risk. The place for that technology is not as a replacement for the paper ballot.
Most Australians conduct many financial transactions online, such as paying bills or online banking, with a reasonable degree of confidence. But while these systems do work acceptably well most of the time, there is a steady stream of fraud committed against them. Some estimates put the cost of cybercrime in Australia at around A$2 billion annually.
Furthermore, there are some key differences between voting and financial transactions which will make electronic voting harder to secure. For example, financial transactions are private, but not anonymous, and they are conducted on a continuous basis, not once every three years or so.
The two parties to a financial transaction can see how the transaction is interpreted by the financial institution involved, and can report any problems. Any fraudulent financial transactions can often be reversed or compensated for on an individual basis. If an online election is found to be unsound, the only remedy may be to rerun the election.