Some Victorians may get the chance to vote over the internet next year as the state electoral commission trials a new system it hopes will replace paper polling. The new system would be trialled in by-elections due to be held in 2013, before being made available to 10,000 eligible voters identified as remote or disadvantaged during wider station elections in 2014. It was expected online voting would provide an alternative to current paper systems for remote, overseas and postal voters which are deemed more at risk than those cast at the polling station, as they are handled by people outside the electoral commission. The system — and indeed all voting platforms — was not imprevious to hacking. Rather, it was designed to meet or improve on the current level of risk experienced by remote and disadvantaged voters. Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) electronic voting manager, Craig Burton, said the system was designed to return an accuracy rating of 99.35 per cent or higher chance of detecting any fraudulent, missing or damaged votes. By comparison, he estimated online banking would have an accuracy of no more than 95 per cent. However, internet banking was markedly different to online voting as financial transactions could be validated and possibly contested after the fact, whereas votes could no longer be accessed by the voter once cast.
The live run next year will test the security integrity and functionality of the system. “It isn’t designed for people to vote on their iPhones while they’re shopping,” Burton said. Unlike other voting platforms, the VEC system was designed so attempts to compromise it would be most likely detected, Burton said. “It won’t prevent hacking, but it is very unlikely that you could affect the infrastructure without being picked up because the verification system is independent of the software and hardware. It is also an incredible disincentive for fraud because attackers can’t obscure what they have done,” he said.
Online voting systems must find a sweet spot in security which would balance an acceptable level of risk with usuability. Burton noted that it was not ideal to continually lump on security because it would remove such a system from the core competency of election commissions. Protocols for the internet voting system were under academic analysis, which once complete, would need to be localised to suit the VEC’s technology and vote-counting processes. The completed system will use the Helios and Prêt à Voter protocols developed by Ben Adida of The Mozilla Foundation and Peter Ryan of Luxembourg University, respectively.