We do everything online – book doctors’ appointments, manage our bank accounts and find dates – but we still can’t yet vote from our PCs or smartphones. By 2020 that should be set to change, with a government report calling for online voting to be trialled again by that year. But critics continue to call for caution, saying electronic voting isn’t secure enough to trust for the basis of our democracy – and may never be. The UK has run trials for local elections before – in 2002, 2003 and 2007 – and Estonia famously became the first to offer online voting for its general election for parliament in 2007. However, Meg Hillier, Labour MP and member of the digital commission that wrote the 2020 report, admitted that the team was “not set up to investigate in detail the issues of security and the mechanisms for delivering that,” hoping that the Electoral Commission “and others will take that on”. … Despite spending years developing GNU.FREE, an open-source online voting system, Jason Kitcat – leader of Brighton and Hove City Council – isn’t a fan of e-voting (nor is his party). “Through working on this I came to the conclusion, now shared by most computer scientists, that e-voting cannot be delivered securely and reliably with current technology. So I stopped developing the system but continued to campaign on and research the issues,” he said. That includes observing e-voting and e-counting systems used in the UK and Estonia. His reports don’t make for encouraging reading.
“When I and colleagues have monitored trials we have always observed serious flaws in the security and reliability of the systems used,” he said. “Yes, we have found problems every single time, and we have documented these at great length in peer-reviewed articles.”
Kitcat argued there are three requirements for robust political elections: security, anonymity and verifiability. “Meeting those three requirements is a very difficult problem quite unlike other transactions,” he said.
”Online banking suffers problems but refunds are possible after checking your bank statement. You can’t ‘refund’ a vote and ‘vote statements’ can’t be provided to check your vote was correctly recorded as that would enable vote selling and coercion.”
All that paper in standard ballots may seem old fashioned, but it leaves a trail that votes cast from PCs and phones don’t, agreed other experts. “There’s a fundamental conflict between verification and keeping votes anonymous,” Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group. “Paper ballots do this very neatly but computers find this hard because they leave audit trails.”