The future of voting should not involve your cellphone, according to a leading cybersecurity expert. In a first-of-its-kind pilot program, West Virginia will test blockchain encrypted mobile phone voting for members of the U.S. military. But Joe Hall, chief technologist and director of internet architecture at the Center for Democracy & Technology, warned that the plan presents a host of risks. “West Virginia has taken the ridiculous step of deciding that they’re going to not only vote on a mobile device, which in and of itself is just a bad idea, but use a blockchain mechanism, something associated with crypto-currency or bitcoin,” Hall told Grant Burningham, host of the Yahoo News podcast “Bots & Ballots.” In a September interview with Burningham, venture capitalist Bradley Tusk argued that his foundation’s plan to test cellphone voting was a way to boost voter participation in the U.S. However, Hall believes the risks outweigh the possible benefits.
Amid suspicions of interference in the 2016 elections, states must be more careful than ever to provide heightened security in this year’s primaries. Yet, West Virginia has just introduced a more vulnerable form of voting for deployed military personnel. West Virginia is now the first state to pilot blockchain technology, to allow some deployed soldiers to vote through mobile phones. Yet cyber security experts warn that this technology, also used for cryptocurrencies, poses dangers for voting. Instead of pioneering voting’s future, West Virginia is paving the way for future election hacking. Blockchain technology addresses only part of the security process currently used by those administering U.S. elections. It’s like installing a high-tech lock and alarm system in your home, and then leaving a front door key and the alarm pass code under the doormat. The alarm system may work perfectly, but until the keys and pass codes are also secure, your home won’t be secure, either.
Dr. Vanessa Teague is one frustrated cryptographer. A researcher at the University of Melbourne in Australia, Teague has twice demonstrated massive security flaws in the online voting systems used in state elections in Australia — including one of the largest deployments of online voting ever, the 2015 New South Wales (NSW) state election, with 280,000 votes cast online. The response? Official complaints about her efforts to university administrators, and a determination by state election officials to keep using online voting, despite ample empirical proof, she says, that these systems are not secure.
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has formed a committee to conduct a technical audit of the Internet voting solution process that was proposed by the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra). The task force formed on the directions of the Supreme Court is mandated to assess the technical soundness of the web-based automated system that has been designed to help overseas Pakistanis vote through the Internet. Only expatriates who have been issued national identity cards for overseas Pakistanis and valid machine-readable passports will be eligible to use the system to cast their votes.
Editorials: Blockchain is not only crappy technology but a bad vision for the future | Kai Stinchcombe/Medium
Blockchain is not only crappy technology but a bad vision for the future. Its failure to achieve adoption to date is because systems built on trust, norms, and institutions inherently function better than the type of no-need-for-trusted-parties systems blockchain envisions. That’s permanent: no matter how much blockchain improves it is still headed in the wrong direction. This December I wrote a widely-circulated article on the inapplicability of blockchain to any actual problem. People objected mostly not to the technology argument, but rather hoped that decentralization could produce integrity.
IT experts on Thursday raised objections over an e-voting software prepared by National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) to enable overseas Pakistanis to cast their votes in the forthcoming elections. A three-member bench of the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Saqib Nisar, Thursday resumed hearing of a case pertaining to voting rights to overseas Pakistanis. During the hearing, the NADRA chairman briefed the SC bench, officials of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and representatives of different political parties on the e-voting system. The official said that providing e-voting facility to around 7 million overseas Pakistanis would cost Rs150 million.
Bradley Tusk is best known as the former political operative who invented lobbying for the sharing economy. He’s the guy who claims credit for turning hordes of Uber customers into city-hall picketers whenever the ride-hailing company objected to new taxi regulations in New York, Washington, or a half-dozen other cities. When states tried to crack down on fantasy sports websites that offer daily cash prizes, one of the biggest, Fanduel, hired Tusk to mobilize its user base to hit back at attorneys general. When a local government suggests that the the people who pick up home-improvement jobs through Handy should be classified as employees entitled to benefits, the app calls in Tusk to argue that those workers are independent contractors. … But Tusk’s financial backing and the Warner family’s enthusiasm shouldn’t be taken as proof that elections can be conducted securely over the internet, says Duncan Buell, a computer science professor at the University of South Carolina who focuses on voting systems and election integrity. “I am strongly opposed to electronic voting, and I think the whole notion of internet voting is completely nuts,” Buell says. “There are a number of issues that come up. The first is authentication. How do you verify who’s at the other end?”
Security concerns have re-emerged to further frustrate the Finnish government’s plans to launch a national e-voting system. But the country’s Ministry of Justice (MoJ) working group, which is leading the project, insists the venture is delayed rather than mothballed. Finland’s online e-voting project will now enter a problem-solving phase to identify advanced, effective and best practice solutions to protect a future e-voting system. … The MoJ estimates that the cost of launching and operating an e-voting system, based on a 15-year timespan, will be about €32m. But the risks attached to launching online voting in Finland currently outweigh its benefits, said Johanna Suurpää, chair of the MoJ’s e-voting working group (eVWG). “Our present position is that online voting should not be introduced in general elections as the risks are greater than the benefits,” said Suurpää. In its project feasibility report presented to the MoJ, the eVWG conceded that although a Finnish online e-voting system is technically possible, the technology available is not yet at a “sufficiently high level to meet all the requirements”.
The Alaska Division of Elections has announced it will suspend a little-used absentee voting program in an effort to improve the security of the state’s elections. In a note released last week, the division said it had received a “B” grade for election security in a recent study conducted by the Center for American Progress, a progressive public policy group. “B” was the highest grade awarded to any state in the country; 11 states received the ranking, the report indicated. Alaska’s report drew attention to the way the state handles absentee ballots submitted from overseas.
A leading data protection expert has warned of future security breaches if the government’s plan to introduce e-voting at a nationwide level goes ahead. Bruno Baeriswyl, data protection commissioner in canton Zurich, urged the authorities to give up plans, announced last April, for online voting across Switzerland. Speaking on the occasion of this year’s European Data Privacy Day at the end of January, Baeriswyl said that current technology could not guarantee that ballots remain secret in votes and elections. He and other cantonal data protection commissioners argued that digitalisation could undermine democratic principles even while online systems help to simplify procedures. “The current systems for e-voting override the secret ballot in votes and elections. But it is imperative that all transactions must always be verifiable in a secure system. As a result, either we have ballot secrecy or we don’t have a secure method,” Baeriswyl said. “And this is highly risky for our democracy.”