Friday, December 18, 2009

Canadians support online voting?

Very active discussion (over 400 comments at the time of this writing) on CBC News story Canadians support online voting: poll (with the usual Internet comment range between somewhat thoughtful and incoherent ranting)

In the poll, released exclusively to CBC: Power & Politics, Canadians were asked if Elections Canada offered a safe way of voting on the internet, how likely is it that they would use it.

Around 49 per cent of respondents said they were very likely and 15 per cent said they were somewhat likely.

Here's the comment I left:

Information on the Internet is just a click away. This issue has been well-studied by computer security experts. One part of it comes down to this magic phrase "a safe way of voting on the internet". That is probably impossible in the real world, outside of the confines of computer science theory. I know some will respond "online banking is already secure" but 1) it isn't & 2) banking has a completely, totally different set of threats and necessary security measure from voting

One good starting point is the Computer Technologists' statement on internet voting http://www.verifiedvoting.org/article.php?id=5867

"Election results must be verifiably accurate -- that is, auditable with a permanent, voter-verified record that is independent of hardware or software. Several serious, potentially insurmountable, technical challenges must be met if elections conducted by transmitting votes over the internet are to be verifiable. There are also many less technical questions about internet voting, including whether voters have equal access to internet technology and whether ballot secrecy can be adequately preserved."

I want to draw attention to that phrase: "potentially insurmountable". Given that paper voting works well now, is easy to understand, and is quick to count, would you rather stay with that, or try a system that computer experts say may be impossible to create? One which even if it solved the technical problems, would still have no solution for the secrecy of your ballot, a sacred right of democracy. Voting integrity is not theoretical. We know that votes were compromised in Iran and Afghanistan. Now imagine instead of paper votes and people in the streets, it had all taken place electronically? You would never know if the results reflected the votes cast.

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I feel your pain.

Initiatives to introduce online voting in my country (Lithuania) began 3-4 years ago.

According to polls 40% of Lithuanians are likely to use online voting and 78% view it favorably.

However, public opinion can be changed -- Ireland is an example. I don't have a link, but after serious concerns were raised about e-voting security the majority of people switched to e-voting skeptics.

Luckily for us in Lithuania, the parliament has rejected online voting projects two times.

First time it was due to fears of ruling political parties that opposition parties will get more votes from young voters.

Second time was just ~2 weeks ago. This time the parliament members were more educated in the matter -- someone even cited SERVE security report during the debates and so on.

I think what helped us was that we had help and support of some MPs from the beginning.

Also we started with a "study" paper analyzing the flaws in the e-voting and publicized it through the media. As Steve Yegge said -- these long papers take time, but reach more people than short blog posts. Even more so when given credentials by some "institute" think-tank.

Currently we have an active Facebook group (getting near 200 members) and are planing to try to change public opinion, because we think that the question may return again and again...

I don't know if any of our experience can help you (Lithuania is much smaller than Canada), but I wish you best luck!
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