If you can trust your life savings to an online bank and pay your taxes over the Internet, why can’t you vote that way? The answer, according to a discussion paper on Internet voting released this week by Elections B.C., is that it’s harder to guarantee a fair election online than it is to safeguard your savings.
Banks anticipate some level of fraud and while that is a cost borne collectively by all of their customers, individuals are covered. An electoral system, on the other hand, has to be able to demonstrate that every vote cast is counted exactly as intended.
It also has to accomplish a couple of other, inherently contradictory tasks. It has to identify the person voting to ensure they are eligible and that they are only voting once. At the same time, it has to register the vote in a way that doesn’t connect the choice it expresses to the person casting the ballot. It also has to be transparent enough so that the public it serves can have faith that the outcome will reflect the will of the people, while remaining secure from hackers.
There’s nothing new about electoral fraud under our current system of making a mark on a bit of paper and shoving it through a slot. We spend millions to ensure it doesn’t affect the outcome of elections in Canada.
The fear with Internet voting is that in addition to all of the existing small-scale problems, online voting opens up the possibility that someone can hack into the system and either take it down through a denial of service attack or simply rig the outcome.
When Washington, D.C., tried a pilot project, a computer lab at the University of Michigan took it as a challenge and successfully hacked in so that when someone went to the site to vote they would hear the school’s fight song. Even so, it was two days before election officials noticed their site had been hacked.
With all the potential problems, why bother? In Germany, online voting has been ruled unconstitutional because voters without technical knowledge could not verify that their vote had been counted as cast.
But other jurisdictions are exploring Internet voting because of the known benefits of computers for cutting costs and the potential — as yet unproven — of increasing voter turnout. The hope is that tech-savvy young voters, those least likely to vote now, will take more naturally to a system that doesn’t require them to go and line up at a physical polling place. But the evidence so far is that while online options do grow in popularity where they are offered, overall turnout doesn’t change much.
Full Article: Opinion: Allure of online voting may outweigh the risks.