Wednesday, July 06, 2016

The Australian - Election cliffhanger prompts e-Voting rethink - comment

Here is the comment I posted on The Australian article Election cliffhanger prompts e-Voting rethink by Supratim Adhikari on July 5, 2016.  The comment has not (yet?) been accepted.


While the counting of paper ballots is slow, all of the complexity is visible to everyone.  With an Internet voting system, you would be greatly increasing the complexity and all of the associated possibilities for very complex systems to fail, but hiding all of that increased complexity from voters.  This simply distances the voting system even further from citizens.  To quote the 2013 Parliamentary inquiry: “It is important that in embracing technology, the secret ballot is not undermined, voter behaviour is not negatively impacted, and confidence in the electoral process and electoral outcomes is not damaged. At a time of debate about community disengagement with political processes, it would be greatly concerning if the method of voting—the one act of participatory democracy that all Australian citizens will definitely engage in—was to further disengage the community from these processes.” [1]

That is not to mention the risk of the election being hacked, including by other nation states.  This is a reality already - China was blamed for a massive hack on a Bureau of Meterology computer [2] resulting in the government spending an additional $230 million on cybersecurity [3] .

This leads to the last point, about claimed cost savings.  The current paper-based system can be used again and again, year after year, with at most minor modifications.  That is not at all the case for any kind of universal electronic voting system.  Technology and cyberattacks are constantly changing, which means that any electronic voting system is obsolete the day that it launches.  Such a system would have to be continuously and expensively updated for every election, to reflect technology changes and to defend against new types of attacks.  That kind of continuous expenditure on information technology is great for the Information Industry, but terrible for government budgets.

[1] http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Joint/Electoral_Matters/2013_General_Election/Second_Interim_Report/Chapter_4#comment section 4.80
[2] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-12-02/china-blamed-for-cyber-attack-on-bureau-of-meteorology/6993278
[3] http://phys.org/news/2016-04-australia-hack-boosts-cyber.html


With the slow paper-based count, there has been a flood of articles about Australian e-voting.  Unfortunately I'm not able to respond to them all, but the above comment applies generally.

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