Online Voting: Political Science Fiction
- Enable people to vote online (e-voting) can potentially increase the voter base.
- Security challenges are preventing states from implementing e-voting.
- E-voting has to be verifiable for the individual (voter) and universally (ballot).
- Casting votes online for big scale political elections and votes is still far away.
“Online voting will come” says Chris Cruz, Deputy Director and Deputy State Chief Information Officer (CIO) for California. The man who probably knows best where the utilization of technology in the State of California is heading, made this promising statement during his presentation at Stanford University on June 30. However he added that there are still severe security concerns . The two conflicting statements exhibit the hopes and the technical challenges that e-voting faces.
There have been initiatives in different states and countries around the globe to enable online voting. Casting the ballot via computer or mobile phone should in theory have following benefits:
- Save time as people don’t have to stand in line at polling stations.
- Make the voting process easier for citizens with disabilities and who live abroad.
- Motivate young voters because they are typically a less active voter group.
On a short side note: E-voting experiences for example in Switzerland have shown hardly any effect on the electorate as an analysis by the Swiss government from 2015 shows . In Norway e-voting got abandoned all together in 2014 after it didn’t boost the turnout and probably even more important, due to security concerns .
To be considered secure politicians and IT experts alike agree that an e-voting system for political ballots has to fulfil three requirements .
- Vote correctness: The voter’s privacy has to be guaranteed for example with an end-to-end encryption. No one else can read their casted ballot, the voter stays anonymous.
- Individual verification: Voters have to be able to verify that their vote was accounted for as casted to guarantee the integrity of the system.
- Universal verification: To make sure that no external or internal entity has manipulated the ballot, the system has to provide mathematical proof of the accuracy of whole electoral.
The Spanish encryption company Scytl claims to cover all those requirements. Scytl provides voting technology for 19 out of 21 countries in the world that are currently experimenting with e-voting. Followmyvote.com a competitor has created a system based on blockchain technology. As crypto currency experts have told me in personal discussions, they believe that blockchain technologies could actually provide a potential solution to a secure e-voting system. The challenge to convince people that the technology is save remains.
I believe that is what Chris Cruz was referring to; security concerns. The CIO of California emphasized the progress that his State has made pointing to online registration for voters in different counties. Fact is though that in only 35 out of 58 counties (60%) voters can register online (meaning register to vote but not actually vote online).
Therefore it is fair to say, that the fast pace progress in information technologies that is especially driven by the Silicon Valley has not translated to a more digital voting system, neither in California nor in other modern societies. This might seem asynchronous. But it is understandable if we are taking into consideration what is on the line: it is the very core substance of a democracy – the voting procedure. Hence, we are left with Chris Cruzes promise that “online voting will come”. The natural question then follows; when? It remains unanswered.
-  Chris Cruz, CIO in the Department of Technology for California (30. June 2017), Presentation at Stanford University.
-  Schweizerische Bundeskanzlei, „Voter électronique 2015“, https://www.bk.admin.ch/themen/pore/evoting/06552/index.html?lang=de
-  BBC online (27. June 2014), „E-voting experiment ends in Norway amog security fears“,http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-28055678https://www.change.org/p/office-of-the-secretary-of-the-state-of-california-elections-division-implement-a-modern-voting-system-where-voters-can-prove-the-election-is-honest-and-accurate
-  Scytl Online Voting, “The Pillars of End-to-End Online Voting Security and Veriability”-Pdf (https://www.post.ch/-/media/post/evoting/dokumente/the-pillars-of-end-to-end-online-voting.pdf?la=de&vs=1)
-  Followmyvote, https://followmyvote.com/cryptographically-secure-voting/
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