Online Voting: Harder to Implement Than You’d Think

July 2nd, 2009

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The Chief Electoral Officer is now advocating in favour of moving to online voting. Many of us who’ve worked in both IT and election campaigns have an idea of just how complicated an undertaking this would be … from the perspectives of both security and of allowing the vote to be scrutinized.

Someone who’s taken the time and trouble to explain the problems to non-IT professionals without dumbing it down is former Calgary West, AB Independent candidate Kirk Schmidt (also the very first person I didn’t know who found the Pundits’ Guide and wrote to me about it). Schmidt has written an excellent guest post at the Enlightened Savage blog, which is mandatory reading for anyone thinking that online voting is a panacea to turnout problems.

2 Responses to “Online Voting: Harder to Implement Than You’d Think”

  1. Jack Siegel says:

    Glad to see this being raised as an issue, as opposed to getting greeted by a bunch of nodding heads. You identify security and scrutiny of the vote count as issues, but it's broader than a mere technology issue.

    With home Internet access to the ballot, guarantees of a secret ballot become meaningless, in that no one can control or ensure a voter's privacy behind closed doors. A dominant parent or spouse (or child in the case of a senior citizen voter) can not merely watch (which is bad enough), but in fact do the voting for everybody.

    Moreover, a vote cannot be delegated; I cannot legally authorize you to go and vote for me (proxies were abolished many years ago). But with Internet voting comes Internet passwords or PINs, and what possible barriers can prevent someone from giving their PIN to someone else, or worse, prevent someone from soliciting PINs from people who don't plan to use them anyhow.?

    We could well see an increase in voter turnout, but let's not be too quick to conclude that this represents more people actually casting the ballots.

    There may well be a limited role for this – for voters who are overseas, perhaps, where the snail mail system for special ballots under the current rules is simply too slow (3,865 such applciations got to Elections Canada too late to be allowed, in the 2008 election). But as an approach for broad-based voting, this simply must be stopped.

  2. The Pundits' Guide says:

    Hi Jack, and thanks for your contribution. I tend to agree with you: if the voting system ain't broke (and I don't think it is), don't "fix" it in the name of trying to fix another problem (turnout).

    So far I'm in favour of the extra advanced voting days proposal (haven't heard the arguments if any against it though), and I could see making some improvements to the mail-in ballot system.

    But the more you know about technology, the more you realize how many ways we could take a basically functional and honest system and open it up to massive new problems.

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