Monday, April 18, 2011

Refuting the Claims Against E-Voting Systems

Picture: lowjumpingfrog
The world is moving toward an increasingly paperless society. Email and scanners have rendered fax machines virtually obsolete. Credit and debit cards mean paper money isn't as necessary as it once was. Why is it, then, that so many countries around the globe still make use of manual voting systems for their elections rather than opting for a more efficient electronic voting ("e-voting") system instead?

Oftentimes, the people who argue against the use of e-voting are not necessarily cognizant of the specifics of e-voting. They may be political or opinion leaders, to be sure, but further investigation can reveal that their points of contention are not as powerful as they may seem. Let's explore some of the common attacks against e-voting and how these attacks can be refuted.

"Computer code can be hacked."

It is a common misconception that all e-voting systems do not offer a paper trail. In fact, many of these systems are designed so that the machine prints out a confirmation slip upon the registration of the vote. This helps to ensure transparency. Also, this can aid in the anonymity of a vote. That said, the paper trail by itself doesn’t remove some doubts about hackers having the possibility to manipulate the code before, during, or after a vote is cast. So, based on this, should e-voting be dismissed?

No. With the right backup systems in place, as well as the right checks and balances, the electronic ballot is actually more secure than its paper-based counterpart. Using sophisticated encryption and security settings, an e-vote based election will be just as secure as the government storage of other important and confidential information. These systems are even more secure than some security systems used by major banks.

"A computer may misinterpret voter intent."

The likelihood of that an error in the device or code used could result in an inaccurate recording of a vote is much lower with an electronic ballot than with a paper one. Paper ballots that are marked incorrectly need to be discarded. The voter may have not clearly indicated a single decision, marked multiple boxes, or had the initial marking smudged and rendered illegible. It is also possible that a voter could read the wrong name and thus mark the wrong box.

Using the example of a touchscreen electronic voting system, the voter simply taps his or her choice on the screen. The voter can choose one and only one candidate (if that is how the election is configured by law), minimizing the possibility of discarded ballots and maximizing the likelihood of correctly recording the voter's true intent. Voters with disabilities can also have greater access, overcoming physical hurdles that may have otherwise prevented them from exercising their civil right to vote by themselves.

"Data can be intercepted or stolen."

With a paper-based vote, the ballots boxes need to be physically transported to the appropriate location and the ballots need to be counted by hand. This gives the appearance of security and reliability, but it is very much susceptible to human error too.

When a vote is recorded electronically, the data is already securely stored on a central server or computer. The computer can then accurately tabulate the results of the election in a much more expedient and efficient manner than people can.

By having the ballots go through fewer human hands, the chances of corruption or manipulation of the data are lowered significantly as well.

Just as paper cash register rolls are being replaced by advanced spreadsheets and other software, the same trend is quickly emerging with voting systems too. The electronic ballot isn't the wave of the future; it is what is needed for the present.