Talk about admitting defeat before the race is over. Instead of trying to inspire voters to get out and do their democratic duty in a few weeks, Local Government Minister Chris Tremain has as good as conceded turn-out is going to be poor. This week, he’s announced a trial of online voting in the 2016 local authority elections as a way “to encourage people to become involved in the democratic process.” Voting via the internet, he says, “will be more convenient and appeal to young voters. It will also make it easier for people with disabilities to vote”. Local Government New Zealand president Lawrence Yule echoed these wishful hopes. But overseas trials don’t appear to back their optimism. In a 2009 poll for the Honolulu Neighbourhood Board, for example, there was an 83 per cent drop in voter participation when Oahu voters had to vote by telephone or internet, rather than cast a paper ballot. But even if internet voting was served up as another option, alongside postal and polling booth voting, and did prove to be a hit with the young, there’s no evidence to suggest your e-vote will be safe and secure as it wings its way from your laptop to Election Central, or that when it arrives, it won’t be prey to malware, or direct external interference.
… The minister could save us all some money and time by Googling a copy of “Attacking the Washington, DC internet Voting System,” by University Michigan computer science professor Alex Halderman. In 2010, the District of Columbia set up a trial online voting system, designed for use by absentee voters in the general election that year, and issued a challenge to allcomers to test the system and see if they could “compromise its security”.
Professor Halderman and two graduate students took up the challenge, and within 48 hours of the the system going live, “had gained near complete control of the election server”. He told a conference later that they soon found an error in the source code that “allowed us to completely steal the election”.