Internet Voting: What Do You Think?

January 26th, 2010

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I’m attending the all-day Symposium at Carleton University today on “Internet Voting: What Can Canada Learn“. We’ll be getting presentations from folks in Europe and several Canadian municipalities about their experiences, and I’ll be filing on it later in the day.

In the meantime, as I asked on Twitter last night, what are your concerns and/or interests when it comes to Internet voting? What questions would you have if you were here?

I’ll keep an eye on the comments here, and on Twitter, and see what I can glean from the presentations.

17 Responses to “Internet Voting: What Do You Think?”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I like the thought of internet voting a lot more than the practice of self-selected internet polling.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Internet voting is a really really bad idea.
    I'm an organizer, and I can already think of a dozen ways the system could be abused. Never mind the issue of your boss (or union boss) looking over your shoulder while you vote. If passwords are mailed out to voters, all you need to do is get someone's voting card, and you can vote in their place. Political campaigns would completely change. They would no longer be about persuading voters to vote for your guy. Instead, they would be about collecting as many voter cards as possible, and then on e-day, casting votes fraudulently.

    I'm a high level organizer for a major political party, and I'm already looking for ways to game the system.

  3. The Pundits' Guide says:

    Hey, Anon: Stop it !! ;-)

  4. Security would be my concern. If that can be addressed, then I'm all for Internet voting. My question: Would voters get snail-mailed or emailed a confirmation of their vote? I'd want such confirmation if I were voting by Internet.

  5. The Pundits' Guide says:

    Chrystal: No-one has done that in the Canadian examples, from what I can tell.

  6. My concerns would be quite similar to Anon 2's.

    To be honest, the idea of Internet Voting reminds me of a Dilbert episode, where Dilbert was given the task of creating an internet voting system – which made him an instant target for lobbyists, etc., pressuring him to put a back-door into the design so that he could control it. :)

  7. The Pundits' Guide says:

    Walker, you're the second person to make a Dilbert reference on this topic today!

  8. Chris says:

    Internet voting both scares and excites me. It holds the promise for faster, cheaper voting. I'm not so much concerned about the security concerns (those can be worked out and the current system isn't bullet-proof) then I am with the societal consequences. When votes can be held instantly and cheaply, we'll likely become a referendum society. No need for representative democracy when you can let the population as a whole vote on every issue. I just don't think we're ready for that level of responsibility.

  9. Bryan says:

    Anonymous (2)'s concerns could presumably be assuaged somewhat by requiring voters to enter some private number that's not on the voter card; health card # would probably be best since not every eligible voter has a driver's licence or a passport.

    But still, I think it's a bad idea. While the current system may permit some small-scale fraud at the margins, at least large-scale fraud requires a lot of co-operation from the inside. But with online voting a skilled hacker might find a way to mess up a whole election. Not very likely, to be sure, but not totally out of the question: think of how much online credit card fraud there is even with banks using the best security available.

    Also, the supposed benefits of it in turns of turnout seem exaggerated to me. Even us young IT-savvy types do all kinds of things that aren't online: we go to work or school in real buildings, we shop in real stores, we drink in real bars with real friends, etc. If people actually care about something, they'll get out of the house and do it. Nobody thinks something is old-fashioned just because it involves a bit of walking on the sidewalk rather than sitting in front of your computer.

  10. rakerman says:

    "If passwords are mailed out to voters, all you need to do is get someone's voting card, and you can vote in their place." What e.g. Halifax Regional Municipality did was two-factor authentication, but it's weak – in my understanding it's the PIN from the card and your birthdate as a "shared secret", but it's pretty easy to find out someone's birthdate or birth year.

    In general, key distribution is a big challenge for all security systems, and a particular challenge for national scale when you need to distribute millions of keys. Estonia handles this by the fact that every citizen already has a national ID including cryptographic (digital signature) credentials.

  11. jad says:

    There is another issue that needs to be addressed here. In Canada, we take our right to vote for granted, to be used or not as we wish. If you make the process a little complicated the way it is now involving voting cards and physically turning up to vote at the correct polling station, then at least those people who vote are acting because they feel strongly enough about voting to go through the hoops.

    If on the other hand, you make the process a great deal easier so that it can all be done from your home computer, I think you take away some of the gravitas of voting.

    Look at two recent examples : the rise of on-line shopping for one. No line-ups, no hassles with rude staff, and they always have the size and colour you want. It is so much easier, therefore more people do it. And secondly the recent Facebook protest issue. Again, very easy to sign up, so let's all go and do it.

    Certainly I think more people would vote if they could do it on-line, but I think this would expose voters to being manipulated even more, not necessarily just by political parties, but by political action groups with a specific agenda.

    There is also the question of course, that if people are too lazy to find out how to cast a vote and to get themselves to the polling station, how much do they really know or care about politics, and why should we make it easier for them to vote. Voting is a responsibilility as well as being a right, and people need to take it seriously.

  12. jad says:

    Sorry Alice, I had trouble with the last post and it went through twice. Please delete.


  13. Sacha says:

    Online voting would be a disaster, for many reasons.

    First, a voter's right to cast an anonymous ballot is guaranteed and by separating this data leaves the result data wide open to manipulation.

    Secondly, as others pointed out here, authenticating true voters over the internet is a very vulnerable process.

    Finally, something that isn't mentioned here is verifying the vote – currently, you count physical ballots and there is a clear chain of custody to where the bulk of the vote is cast on election day. With internet voting, verifying the vote result is impossible. The concept of a "judicial recount" is impossible.

    The only plus side to internet voting is that Elections Canada does one heck of a job trying to staff 100+ polling stations per riding, and each poll station requires at least two people to operate. Getting that many staff up and trained in such a short period of time is not a trivial challenge. With internet voting, this alleviates their HR concern, but this advantage compares nothing to the massive tradeoff you would take by allowing internet voting.

    I also do not think internet voting would substantially increase voter turnout rates if enacted.

    I would be very, very, very against internet voting.

  14. Chris says:

    Even though there is a lot of opposition to Internet voting now, I think we'll get it eventually. Definitely not this year, probably not next year, likely not this decade, but eventually.

  15. How would are those unhappy people be able to lodge a protest if they can't spoil the ballot.

    I am not interested in online voting.

    The FB stunt confirms the ease of button pushing without serious consideration.

  16. The Pundits' Guide says:

    I had to catch up on my sleep, everyone, but will pass along some of the answers I got to all these questions during the seminar in another blogpost soon.

    But after listening to a LOT of information, and sitting next to another blogger with a much stronger IT security background, I'm prepared to go this far: I think we need to have a few experiments with when and where is the appropriate place to use Internet voting.

    I think it could be a good solution for members of the Armed Forces who are serving overseas, whose identity can be authenticated through DND networks (one way they've tested it in the US, so far). It could also work for Canadians working overseas and snowbirds, and maybe even to replace mail-in ballots under the Special Voting Rules, or to allow the visually impaired to finally cast a secret ballot.

    Apparently both the Ontario and Saskatchewan NDP hired the firm Intelivote from Dartmouth, NS to conduct the online voting advance polls in their recent leadership campaigns. I can see that a number of cross-country organizations who need to conduct votes where they are not so high-stakes as our highly competitive federal elections, would find this option very cost-effective. Trust in the process by the participants would be key to its acceptance in any of these contexts. It's very clear to me based on the reaction here and on Twitter to our live-tweets, that such trust will be hard to come by when it comes to federal election campaigns, at least for a good long while.

    Like many of you, I was thinking about Internet voting in terms of it being introduced as a holus-bolus replacement for lining up at the polls in a federal election on Election Day. Goes to show how unimaginative I am!

    I'll write more on it soon. Thank you all so much for such thoughtful contributions.

  17. Pundits' Guide – heh. I guess people have Dilbert on the brain :)

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