e-Voting

With the result of the last federal election taking a couple of weeks to determine, there is a renewed discussion on the possibility of online electronic voting. While an undoubted advantage of e-voting is that the result of an election, no matter how close, would be known on election night, I am against the idea of e-voting for a number of reasons.

The first question that arises in the matter of e-voting is, would it be secure? But that question is simplistic to the point of meaninglessness. For there are many aspects to the security of e-voting:

  • Identification: Who are you?
  • Authentication: How can you prove who you are?
  • Authorisation: Are you eligible to vote?
  • Privacy: Can others see how I vote?
  • Anonymity: At a later time is it possible to see how an individual voted?
  • Auditability: If there is any suspicion that a result has been rigged or interfered with, is it possible at a later time to verify or prove the result?

And of course with each of these questions of security the answer is not just a simple “yes” or “no, but can be a complex and nuanced answer. And although it is probable that a system of e-voting could be implemented that was “secure enough”, it is absolutely certain that the security mechanisms of any such system would be so complicated and esoteric that they would be unintelligible to the vast majority of electors. Seriously, how many people are going to get their head around blockchain technology?

With this inevitable opaqueness of understanding of security, e-voting fails to meet two basic criteria of democratic election – transparency and confidence. That is, do people understand how the the vote and count is conducted, and do they have confidence that the vote and count is conducted fairly.

Although it has limitations, our current paper based system of voting meets all the criteria I have mentioned above. Having electoral officials sort ballot papers into different piles while scrutineers appointed by candidates watch on, is both intelligible and provides a high level of confidence in the validity of the result.

Apart from these two issues of transparency and confidence, there are other reasons why I think e-voting is a bad idea. For example, there is a risk that the incidence of fraudulent voting would increase with e-voting. With the current system (apart from postal voting) to cast a vote on behalf of someone else, requires you to tell a bald lie, face to face with an electoral official, when they ask you if you’ve voted already. With e-voting, if you have enough information to impersonate another voter (and with family members that will often be the case), then a fraudulent vote on their behalf will simply require an impersonal tick in a checkbox on a computer screen in the privacy of your own home. And we are already well conditioned to tell lies of this nature on the internet, because of the never ending requirement to tick checkboxes to say that we’ve read terms and conditions that we have no intention of reading.

Finally, I am skeptical of e-voting because it risks further disengaging an already jaded voter base. With the current system (postal votes aside) you have to physically get your body out of the house, and to a polling place, past the candidate volunteers, queue up with other citizens and cast your vote. Although not too onerous, there is effort involved, and this effort I think makes people more deliberate in their voting decision. On the other hand, e-voting could easily become a quick and mindless filling in a web form just to avoid a fine, given as little deliberation as the meaningless daily web polls that online media sites love to serve up to us.

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