Response 988220951

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Matthew Wilkes

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Online voting (eg, on computers and mobile devices)

6. What are the potential benefits and drawbacks of online voting (eg, voting via the internet using a computer or mobile device)?

The potential advantages are an increased turnout and quicker, more accurate counts. The downsides are too numerous to list, but the principle disadvantage is that it makes electoral fraud trivial. The most important aspects of a ballot are the ability for the elector to make a choice and verify that the choice was recorded correctly. In the present system the verification is made possible by simply re-reading the ballot. In a larger sense, it's possible by becoming a scrutineer, and by the assumption that the large political parties won't collude in fraud. If voting was electronic neither of these would be possible. It would not be possible to tell if an individual computer had been suborned by a third party to appear to record a vote for one candidate but transmit another. This is well within the abilities of a single member of the public. If an electronic voting algorithm was used to shore-up the counting-side verifiability then that algorithm would need to be able to be updated and modified quickly, potentially delaying votes, in order to maintain a secure ballot.

7. What impact, if any, would online voting have on voter turnout?

It would increase turnout, as it would remove the requirement to attend a given place at a given time, or to arrange an alternative in advance.

8. Would online voting increase the ‘digital divide’ or increase accessibility in elections?

Elections would undoubtedly be more accessible. There are diminishing returns, however. The people that find elections inaccessible currently are a small proportion of the population, significantly less than the people that choose not to participate. A digital divide is a red herring; people are very adaptable and there would undoubtedly be decades of planning and announcements before a change occurred.

Electronic voting at the ballot box (eg, using a voting machine at a polling station)

10. What are the advantages and disadvantages to using electronic voting machines in polling stations instead of paper ballots?

The advantages are that they can refuse to admit spoiled ballots and that they can provide supplementary information on candidates and parties, such as photographs of the candidate or national party leadership. The disadvantage is that the public have no ability to audit the functionality of these machines. In cases where experts have been given access significant flaws have been found (c.f. Diebold's record from 2009). Electronic voting machines are used to replace not just the ballot but the ballot box. As a member of the public, it is impossible to detect deliberate malfeasance when using electronic voting machines.

11. Would electronic voting at the ballot box be a useful step towards online voting?

No. Electronic voting machines require technology that is trusted by all parties but only available to be audited by the state. True electronic voting requires technology that's trusted by the elector only. By training people to see electronic voting as safe without actually providing the mathematical guarantees of true electronic voting this would reduce the security of the ballot.

Best practice and troubleshooting

13. What safeguards would be needed to reassure the public that their digital vote was secure?

The ability for every person to access the full electoral submissions of the country and verify their consistency according to a public algorithm. The ability for every person to verify that their particular submission has been counted accurately by checking the public record. The publishing of all source and object code for all electronic systems involved in the taking and counting of votes. Permission given to all citizens to interrupt the operation of one of these machines and verify its accuracy. Redundant systems which are selected at random by a process that's provably unknowable (such as sha-summing of currency rates in a pre-defined manner) and the ability for members of the public to verify this choice is being respected. A guarantee that any whistleblowers that expose deliberate crippling of the system's security (the Snowden revelations would almost certainly count) will be afforded protection under law.