Although a comparison is often made between them, online banking and Internet voting are very dissimilar, says a discussion paper from Elections B.C., the organization responsible for conducting elections in the Canadian province of British Columbia.
The paper, dated Aug. 31, notes that online banking was never introduced with the expectation that it would be fraud-proof. Rather, the business case for it rests on the assumption that fraud is offset by reduced operating costs and convenience benefits to clients. “The reality is that online banking fraud is increasing at a rapid pace and banks expend substantial resources on insurance,” the paper says.
Unlike fraud in the voting system, fraud in online banking does not directly affect the rest of society, the paper adds. In addition, should a bank’s website go down, whether because of a denial-of-service attack, network outage or other cause, clients can complete their transactions later–whereas voting must be concluded by a certain date, with no extensions.
Banking transactions are identifiable from end-to-end, but voting is distinct in its requirement for an initial authentication of the voter but complete anonymity in the voter’s choices. The requirement for secrecy, in turn, makes it hard to protect online voting against fraud or to detect fraud, because there can be no other record of voter choice besides the electronic transaction itself–were voters to receive a printed receipt of their vote choices, that would open the door to coercion and vote buying and selling.
Voting outside the controlled environment of a polling place also creates risk that voters could be coerced or engage in vote selling, the paper says. This is already an accepted risk of mail-in voting, but British Columbia law “limits postal voting to citizens in defined circumstances and only 0.2 percent of voters used this option in the 2009 General Election,” the paper says.
Whether or not Internet voting would increase public participation is uncertain, the paper says. A 2010 study of Internet voting in Estonian parliamentary elections–Estonia being the only country in the world to roll out Internet voting for all voters in national elections–found that for the most part, online votes substituted for votes that otherwise would have been cast at polling stations. A 2007 study by the U.K. Electoral Commission of Internet voting pilots in England and Wales came to a similar conclusion.