Australia and other countries are a decade or longer away from safe methods of online voting in state and national elections and current tools pose a serious risk to democratic processes, people at a public lecture heard on Monday night. University of Michigan researcher J Alex Halderman and University of Melbourne research fellow Vanessa Teague said online voting in Saturday’s New South Wales election could have been seriously compromised through security weaknesses in the iVote system, being used in the upper house. The pair, in a a public lecture at the Australian National University, said that internet voting continued to raise some of the most difficult challenges in computer security and could not be considered completely safe. They reported faults in the NSW system to electoral authorities last week, ahead of as many as 250,000 voters using online systems to participate in the ballot.
Professor Halderman said online voting currently did not meet the expectations of voters in democratic elections. “If you talk to almost any security expert, what you will hear is that existing technology just isn’t up to the task yet,” he said before the lecture.
“We need research, potentially decades of progress in security before we’re going to get there. Voting online requires you to solve some of the hardest problems in computer security.”
Most governments recognised the limitations of online voting security, Professor Halderman said, and the NSW election would be the largest ever online poll, despite the reported risk.
“We would have urged them not to use the iVote system, certainly not to open it up as widely as they have. You just need some very small thing to go wrong in order to compromise the integrity of the entire election.”