Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Replace postal voting with secure internet voting

The traditional view of collecting votes during an election would entail having citizens visit an official polling place to cast their ballot. In the past, this may have been with colored balls in marked jars, but it has since evolved to involve paper ballots, pull-lever machines and direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting machines, some with intuitive touchscreen displays and advanced security measures. 

While this standard, regardless of the exact mechanism used, largely remains the primary way that most democracies in the world allow their citizens to exercise their right to vote, it is not always enough on its own. Particularly when it comes to universal access and convenience, people living in rural areas or more remote parts of the country can encounter significant difficulty in making the physical trip to a polling place in the city.

The world as a whole is experiencing a greater level of urbanization than ever before, but this does not mean that people living outside of major metropolitan areas should have any greater difficulty in casting a vote than their urban counterparts. To address this, electoral commissions have typically relied on postal voting, offering an extended period of time where citizens could send their ballots in through the regular postal mail.

However, postal voting is “becoming increasingly problematic” for a number of reasons. The pieces of mail can easily become lost and sending private ballots through the postal service may not live up to the security and confidentiality standards that a legitimate election should have. Mail tampering is not uncommon and this could jeopardize the integrity of the election results.

A more recent solution to gain popularity in countries like Estonia is Internet-based voting. Also called i-voting, online voting may not necessarily replace precinct-based voting places for the majority of people, but it can provide much greater access and convenience to those who wish to use an online system instead. 

Naturally, there are also many concerns about security when it comes to anything to do with the Internet, but these concerns can be suitably addressed if the proper audits are in place and the right firms are handled to manage the elections. Online systems have the potential of becoming the victim of malicious attacks, but they can be prevented. The hacking of an online vote in the Canadian province of Alberta was suitably thwarted, despite “multiple attempts to infiltrate the website.” The internal security systems prevented these attacks from having any impact on the results of the vote.

Because of the possibility of such attacks, it is important that all online voting systems allow for an adequate period of time during which voters can cast their ballots online. The time needs to be sufficient to mitigate a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack. Should the voting website go down for a period of time, there needs to be enough time to recover and to ensure that voters can still cast their vote.

As expert William J. Kelleher has asserted in the past, Internet voting can be safe and reliable and it is certainly a more viable, scalable and secure solution than the increasingly archaic system of postal voting.