Elections Canada said this week that it hopes to test Internet voting in byelections after the 2015 general federal election. If the tests are successful, the agency could adopt this form of voting in all federal elections. Elections Canada is on a perilous track. The use of computers in democracy’s most important exercise, voting, is subject to two serious dangers: inadvertent glitches and deliberate tampering. Montrealers know all about the glitches. So do voters in most of the 139 other cities and towns across Quebec that also used electronic equipment in their 2005 municipal elections (either for counting votes, as did Montreal and Longueuil, or for both voting and counting, as did Quebec City). In Montreal’s case, 45,000 ballots were counted twice (only later corrected), and election results were hours late. Snafus were also rife elsewhere. Quebec’s elections agency wisely responded to the fiasco by suspending use of such technology until it could be shown to be foolproof. Logically, this should mean suspension in perpetuity: Computers will never be risk-free.
Tamperers are an even a bigger risk than bugs. You can detect bugs and fix them, but tamperers can change the outcome of elections and you’ll never know. There have been suspicions, though no solid evidence, that this has happened in some states during U.S. presidential elections, but the potential for this clearly exists: This week, for example, computer-security researchers at Johns Hopkins University demonstrated that election software “could easily allow someone to cast multiple votes for one candidate.”
It’s important to define exactly what Elections Canada has in mind. It does not want the sort of electronic voting machines that in some places have replaced the traditional paper-based ballot box. Rather, the agency would allow voters either 1) to cast a paper ballot at a polling place or 2) to use their home computer or mobile device to vote remotely by Internet. Each voter would chose between these options.
Voting by Internet, however, would presumably be as vulnerable to fraud as actual electronic voting machines. If, as Edward Snowden has shown, U.S. sleuths can spy on the European Union’s highly safeguarded emails and documents, and if, as U.S. federal prosecutors charged on Thursday in North America’s biggest-ever hacking case, a gang has been able to copy and sell 160 million credit card numbers from major companies, mischievous souls could surely crack a relatively humble Internet voting system.
Lest anyone think Canadian politics would not draw such attention, bear in mind that a cyber attack using upwards of 10,000 computers targeted the New Democratic Party’s electronic voting machines at the party’s 2012 leadership convention, jamming the machines and delaying the voting by hours.
Full Article: Aubin: Internet voting has its pitfalls.