Saturday, March 06, 2010

21st century vote

Michael Geist linked to a Sun story about Alberta considering on-line/Internet voting for the province at some point in the future, using the term e-voting in the title of the post. This muddying of terms really worries me; it has huge implications for this issue, I maintain: while e-voting machines may one day be a viable option for elections in Canada, I have serious doubts about the same ever being true of on-line/Internet voting.

This quote from Alberta's Chief Electoral Officer highlights a few of my concerns:
I can do my banking online, but I can’t do my voting online... Once it has been proven to be effective, that the votes can be certified, all that security stuff can be looked after, I certainly see that as something that’s coming. Anything that we can do to make the process more accessible to electors is obviously a good thing.
First, the security requirements associated with on-line banking differ significantly from those associated with any Internet voting system. I would also suggest that they are much more complex: consider that, under the current system, a voter cannot be directly linked with his or her specific vote and is therefore free from being coerced to vote a certain way. Similarly, banks accept a certain level of fraud (including on-line fraud) as the price of doing business; I don't think the same can be said of any voting system we would consider using to determine the leadership of the country.

This brings me to my second point: there are complexities in this that shouldn't be passed on to other trials, be they in the EU, the US, or wherever. When officials in power use phrases like "security stuff" and imply that other smart people are doing things, so why aren't we, well, again, I get nervous. He uses the term certified. What does that mean to him, or the people conducting the trial? Again, if part of it includes proving that a particular user cast a particular vote -- certainly part of a plausible definition -- that would obviously have enormous privacy implications (as it is completely unnecessary, and just asking for problems, however careful the government is with that information).

Finally, in addition to confusing e-voting machines with Internet voting -- I'm sure someone in power thinks trials of one have some bearing on the suitability of the other -- voter turn-out, or the lack thereof in recent years, always seems to come up in these discussions. And while I'll be the first to admit that it's an important issue, it's for that very reason that it should be divorced from any discussion about the voting systems to be used. Otherwise, the implication is that advent of one-click Internet voting will bring the young voters in droves. On this point, I like the provincial NDP leader's comment (i.e., look at mandatory voting, as they have in Australia); while one could question the merit of the suggestion, the idea that voter engagement need not be synonymous with Internet voting is spot on.

Update: Geist on why thoughts of using Internet voting in provincial and federal elections are premature.