Swiss authorities are trumpeting the fact that more than 2,000 would-be hackers from around the world have taken up an invitation to try to find holes in Switzerland’s groundbreaking online voting system — and potentially earn tens of thousands of francs (dollars) if they succeed. The Federal Chancellery and Swiss regions, known as cantons, expressed satisfaction at the high response barely a week after launching a registration for IT experts to help crack a planned update to Switzerland’s 15-year-old e-voting system. Among countries in Europe, only Estonia has a similar online voting program, a Swiss official said. The effort amounts to a coming-of-age of Swiss e-voting, or online voting, systems: After over 200 trials and the rollout of e-voting already in 14 of Switzerland’s 26 cantons, authorities now believe they’ve developed “completely verifiable systems” that they hope to introduce for the first time this year.Full Article: Hackers flock to hunt for cracks in Swiss e-voting system - StarTribune.com.
Worries over election hacking have led officials in Europe and the U.S. to consider a return to hand-counting paper ballots. Switzerland, however, is moving in the opposite direction, toward absentee electronic voting. It’s a useful way of keeping turnouts from falling, and the systems can be made secure and reliable. Since the scare of 2016, when U.S. intelligence services asserted that malicious Russian actors came close to hacking electronic voting systems and even cracked some voter databases, at least one country – the Netherlands – went back to counting paper ballots by hand throughout the tabulation process, not just at local polling stations. Dozens of U.S. states used hand-counting either solely or for backup in the 2018 midterm elections, and the states that failed to do so were criticized for ignoring security. … Recent research shows that electronic voting doesn’t boost interest in elections by much. In Estonia, which introduced e-voting in 2005, more than 30 percent of the vote is now cast online but the total turnout has remained stable – and low. Yet studies have also shown that having e-voting as an option can arrest a decline in turnout: Easy absentee voting is habit-forming.Full Article: Election Hacking: Bucking the Trend, Swiss Rely on Online Voting - Bloomberg.
In his 2008 white paper that first proposed bitcoin, the anonymous Satoshi Nakamoto concluded with: “We have proposed a system for electronic transactions without relying on trust.” He was referring to blockchain, the system behind bitcoin cryptocurrency. The circumvention of trust is a great promise, but it’s just not true. Yes, bitcoin eliminates certain trusted intermediaries that are inherent in other payment systems like credit cards. But you still have to trust bitcoin—and everything about it. Much has been written about blockchains and how they displace, reshape, or eliminate trust. But when you analyze both blockchain and trust, you quickly realize that there is much more hype than value. Blockchain solutions are often much worse than what they replace. First, a caveat. By blockchain, I mean something very specific: the data structures and protocols that make up a public blockchain. These have three essential elements. The first is a distributed (as in multiple copies) but centralized (as in there’s only one) ledger, which is a way of recording what happened and in what order. This ledger is public, meaning that anyone can read it, and immutable, meaning that no one can change what happened in the past.Full Article: There's No Good Reason to Trust Blockchain Technology | WIRED.
The Swiss government will make its future e-voting system available for a public intrusion test and is now inviting companies and security researchers to have a go at it. “Interested hackers from all over the world are welcome to attack the system,” the government said in a press release. “In doing so, they will contribute to improving the system’s security.” … A mock e-voting session is planned on the last day of the testing period, on March 24, but participants can attack the e-voting system before that, as well. To participate, companies and security researchers will have to sign up in advance of the PIT session’s official start. Signing up will give participants the legal permission to attack the system, will ensure the cash rewards will reach those who first report an issue, and it enforces a set of rules and restrictions on participants.Full Article: Swiss government invites hackers to pen-test its e-voting system | ZDNet.
The Swiss government has issued a 150,000 Swiss franc (US$149,790) challenge to online hackers; break into our new generation electronic voting system and we’ll reward you. The federal chancellery announced a dummy run election will be held from February 25 to March 24 and invited anyone who wants to display their online piracy talents to sign up at https://onlinevote-pit.ch. They can then “try to manipulate the vote count, to read the votes cast, to violate voting secrecy or to bypass security systems,” it said in a statement. The amount of the reward paid out will depend upon the level of intrusion achieved by each hacker.
Several federal offices in Switzerland are investigating whether online manipulation could affect upcoming elections, says a newspaper report. The Federal Office of Communicationsexternal link (OFCOM) has set up a government working group to look into the effects of artificial intelligence on the media and public opinion, writes the NZZ am Sonntag paper. This group was set up last September and is headed by the education and research ministry, spokesman Francis Meier told the paper. Last October Swiss intelligence chief Jean-Philippe Gaudin also warned that foreign actors could try to influence the next federal elections through online artificial intelligence, saying he would propose appropriate measures to the government.Full Article: Swiss look into online manipulation ahead of federal polls - SWI swissinfo.ch.
Communications expert Ilmar Raag thinks that Russian meddling in the upcoming general election on 3 March is unlikely, not least because the situation in Estonia is stable, and even a large-scale disinformation effort wouldn’t change much. In a piece for weekly Eesti Ekspress (link in Estonian), Mr Raag writes that given the current political situation and support of political parties in Estonia, Russia is unlikely to make an attempt at influencing the outcome of the 3 March general election—simply because it doesn’t stand to gain much. For a serious attempt at influencing political opinion in Estonia, the main means at the disposal of the Russian state services is the repetition of whatever story they carry. In practice, this would mean at least five major stories about Estonia on Russian state TV, which at the moment isn’t happening.Full Article: Russia unlikely to meddle with upcoming general election, expert thinks | News | ERR.
One of the toughest things for the digital world to manage is keeping a transaction private while at the same time assuring everyone it has accurately recorded the deal. That’s what Virginia Wesleyan University mathematician Audrey Malagon, an adviser to the non-profit group Verified Voting, has been telling legislators. Her concern is with a particular transaction: voting when voters far from their polling place return their ballots electronically. Del. Nick Rush, R-Christiansburg, wants to launch a pilot program to allow military personnel serving overseas to do just that. He’s hoping the same kind of blockchain technology used in cybercurrency dealings will make it easier for them to vote. But the problem, Malagon told legislators, is preserving the anonymity of the voting booth or absentee ballot while letting both voter and vote-counter know that a vote was accurately recorded.Full Article: Electronic return of ballots worries aired - Daily Press.
A committee of politicians and computer experts is launching a people’s initiative aimed at banning online voting for at least five years, putting an end on ongoing trials with e-voting in Switzerland. Representatives from right and leftwing parties on Friday said they were hoping to win pledges from 10,000 people to collect the necessary signatures for a nationwide vote on the issue. In total, the committee needs to gather at least 100,000 signatures over 18 months. They argued that the current e-voting systems were not secure, too expensive and easy to manipulate. Hacked systems could undermine trust in Switzerland’s system of direct democracy, Green Party parliamentarian Balthasar Glättli warned. People’s Party parliamentarian and Franz Grüter added the e-voting system in use could not guarantee the secure online transmission of a ballot. The move comes after parliament last September rejected attempts to block plans for the permanent introduction of electronic voting.Full Article: Opposition against e-voting project gathers pace - SWI swissinfo.ch.
Electronic voting is widely regarded as insecure and might not do much to help improve voter turnout, a new study suggests. The study published by Auckland University of Technology said online voting was “superficially attractive” but international evidence suggested it was not a silver bullet for reversing declining voter turnout. A trial of electronic voting planned for next year’s local council elections was scrapped by Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) on Wednesday. But it is “never say die” for the trial’s backers who hope to have another crack in 2022 despite strong criticism of the idea from many technology experts. LGNZ shelved its trial planned for nine council elections on cost grounds, rather than because of security concerns. It said it had found an unnamed vendor that satisfied all of its security and delivery requirements, but could not justify the $4.2 million cost of the trial. … The Auckland University of Technology study twists the knife, however.Full Article: Online voting 'no silver bullet' for low turnout, study finds | Stuff.co.nz.
New Zealand: Online voting trial for 2019 local body elections halted because of rising costs | TVNZ
A trial of online voting in next year’s local body will not take place after a working party of nine councils decided to halt the trial because of rising costs. A provider who satisfied the security and delivery requirements had recently been selected but ballooning costs forced the decision to not proceed with the trial in 2019. The working party will continue to work collaboratively with central government and the wider local government sector to deliver online voting for the 2022 local body elections.Full Article: Online voting trial for 2019 local body elections halted because of rising costs | 1 NEWS NOW | TVNZ.
Australia: Pencil manufacturers rejoice: Oz government doesn’t like e-voting – Paper’s safer, says parliamentary committee | The Register
An Australian parliamentary committee has nixed the idea of internet voting for federal elections Down Under, for now. The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters has delivered its report into the 2013 federal election, and in it, the body decided that there are plenty of ways technology can help elections – but ditching the country’s pencil-and-paper ballots isn’t one of them. The committee said technology “is not sufficiently mature for an election to be conducted through a full scale electronic voting process.” “Despite public enthusiasm for electronic voting, there are a number of serious problems with regard to electronic voting – particularly in relation to cost, security and verification of results”, the committee reported.Full Article: Pencil manufacturers rejoice: Oz government doesn't like e-voting • The Register.
President Kersti Kaljulaid signed into action the go ahead for the general election in Estonia, due on 3 March 2019. Whilst the date of 3 March has long been talked about, according to § 78 (3) of the Estonian constitution, the president ”calls regular elections of the Riigikogu..” (official English translation), so the move was necessary to make the date official. The deadline for so doing was Sunday, 2 December. Ms Kaljulaid also made a speech at an event in the eastern Estonian town of Jõhvi, giving practical advice and setting out her views on the importance of democratic behaviour.Full Article: President formally green lights election, advises level-headed voting | News | ERR.
Australia: NSW government finally released ‘net vote system review, says everything’s just fine Including, wait for it, ‘security through obscurity’. No, really | The Register
Australia’s New South Wales Electoral Commission has given its electronic voting system a clean bill of health, dismissing hacking fears as “theoretical,” and accepting a PWC report saying the system to date was protected by “security through obscurity”. Reviews of election processes are routine, and in 2016, the NSW Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters kicked off the Wilkins report. It was completed in May of this year, but was only recently made public (PDF). NSW’s “iVote” system was used by nearly 300,000 citizens in the 2015 election, a week after Melbourne University crypto-boffins Dr Vanessa Teague and Dr Chris Culnane demonstrated a FREAK-bug-like “theoretical attack”.Full Article: NSW government finally released 'net vote system review, says everything's just fine • The Register.
South Korea plans to develop a blockchain voting system, with trials starting next month in the private sector. The Ministry of Science and ICT, and the National Election Commission (NEC) said they will develop a blockchain-based online voting system by December. The NEC ran an online voting system, dubbed K-voting, back in 2013, which has since been used by 5.64 million people but trust in the voting system remains low due to hacking and fraud concerns. The latest system to be developed will apply blockchain in voter authentication and result saving, which will increase transparency and security, the government said.Full Article: South Korea to develop blockchain voting system | ZDNet.
National: Here’s Why Blockchain Voting Isn’t the Solution Voters Are Looking For | Strategic Tech Investor
Now that we’re past Election Day, a certain sort of “silly season” has begun. I’m talking about folks coming up with big ideas on how to fix our outdated voting system. And one of the big ideas out there is using blockchain for voting. Let’s stop that conversation – now. The other day, the Twitter cryptoverse blew up after Alex Tapscott, co-founder of the Blockchain Research Institute, had his op-ed on the matter published in The New York Times. In it, Tapscott presents his case for using a blockchain to carry out online voting. He apparently believes such a process would be much more decentralized and safe from hacking. The only downside, he claims, is a potential delay in the voting process. Let me just tell you straight up: This is a terribly ill-considered idea, for a variety of reasons.Full Article: Here's Why Blockchain Voting Isn't the Solution Voters Are Looking for.
Next year, Swiss authorities will put one of the country’s two e-voting systems up for attack by hackers – with a prize on offer for those who break it. The Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA), a strong backer of online voting, has welcomed the confidence test. The test, organised jointly by federal and regional authorities, will take place over four weeks sometime in spring 2019, the NZZ am Sonntag reports. According to the newspaper, the Federal Chancellery has a budget of some CHF250,000 ($247,500) to implement the contest and pay the hackers; a figure not confirmed by the authorities themselves. Contacted by swissinfo.ch, OSA Director Ariane Rustichelli said that it was “a good sign that the Federal Chancellery, which is leading the project, is reacting to and taking seriously the fears [around e-voting]. Because, for about a year and a half now, more and more critical voices are arising, including in parliament”. The OSA, which represents the interests of the 750,000 Swiss living abroad, is a heavily involved in debates around voting rights and the rolling out of online ballots. “If we manage to show that e-voting is safe, this could boost confidence in the system,” Rustichelli said.Full Article: Swiss e-voting system to undergo ‘hacker test’ - SWI swissinfo.ch.
Florida: Bay County allowed some hurricane victims to vote by fax or email. That’s not allowed. | Miami Herald
As counties recount ballots in three statewide races and lawyers battle over the complex vote tallying in court, the top elections official in Bay County said he allowed some displaced voters to cast ballots by email or fax after Hurricane Michael hit the Panhandle, even though there is no provision for it in state law. Bay County Supervisor of Elections Mark Andersen said Monday that 11 ballots were accepted by email and 147 ballots were domestically faxed in, though state statute does not allow emailed ballots and faxing in ballots is only permitted for military and voters overseas. But Andersen defended his decision to accept those ballots by email and fax vigorously, noting the mass devastation that rocked the coastal county one month ago. “You did not go through what we went through,” he said, describing areas that were shut off by law enforcement and people barred from returning to their homes. “If some are unhappy we did so well up here, I don’t know what to tell them. We sure had an opportunity to not do well, I can tell you that much.”Full Article: Some voters cast ballots by fax or email in Bay County | Miami Herald.
This week West Virginia became the first state in the nation to use Internet voting with blockchain technology in a federal general election, piloting the program for military and other voters living overseas. Despite what officials are calling a successful trial for the app, from Boston-based startup Voatz, Secretary of State Mac Warner has no plans to extend the program to domestic civilians, according to The Washington Post. West Virginia used the Voatz app in a similar limited capacity for the primary election in May. The app works by recording votes on a blockchain, a cryptographic concept popularized with cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin.Full Article: West Virginia Not Planning to Expand Use of Blockchain Voting.
Experts this week warned against entertaining the idea that blockchain could fix the voting system despite growing frustration with the long lines and malfunctioning machines that caused problems during the midterm election. “If you’re trying to convince Walmart it needs blockchains to track avocados or whatever, be our guest,” Arvind Narayanan, an associate professor of computer science at Princeton, tweeted. “But if you’re messing with critical infrastructure, you’ve crossed a line.” Blockchain is technology that uses computers to build a shared, secure and decentralized digital ledger. Blockchain is best known as the basis for the cryptocurrency Bitcoin but in recent years has attracted interest from a variety of industries that see a benefit in using the ideas behind blockchain.Full Article: After a stressful election, experts warn blockchain is not the answer.