Saturday, March 05, 2011

BC Premier-designate has online voting in platform


When only half of registered voters in the province participate in the democratic process something is fundamentally wrong and it’s time to look at new solutions. Canadians have repeatedly identifed online voting as an option that could increase their participation.

Our government will:

  • Ask Elections B.C. to name a non-partisan, expert panel to begin reviewing best practices from across Canada and around the world to investigate the potential of using an online system in British Columbia.

  • Online voting will only be implemented if security concerns are addressed.

pp. 12-13 "The Family First Agenda for Change" - from a copy of the document posted at http://www.scribd.com/doc/49198972/ChristyClark-FamiliesFirstAgenda

(The entire ChristyClark.ca site, including multiple blog postings that were under christyclark.ca/cc/ now redirects to http://www.christyclark.ca/designate/ - neither Google nor archive.org have copies of e.g. http://www.christyclark.ca/cc/2011/01/christy-clark-commits-to-being-most-connected-and-responsive-premier-in-canadian-history/ as it is blocked in robots.txt)

UPDATE 2011-03-06: Platform is available on Clark's site http://www.christyclark.ca/cc/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/ChristyClark-FamiliesFirstAgenda.pdf - thanks to @jordantsimmons for the link. ENDUPDATE

SIDEBAR: Thanks to @interchangepa for pointing me to this information, both in their blog post and then subsequent tweets. Also note Christy Clark is on Twitter: @christyclarkbc ENDSIDEBAR

"Only if security concerns are addressed" is reasonable-sounding, but very tricky. If this focuses on anti-virus scanning and firewalls, it will completely miss the point. First of all, it is impossible to secure consumer desktops. The number of potential attack vectors is huge. Not just network-bound attacks, but phishing as well. How bad is this situation?

IEEE Spectrum - The Risk Factor Blog - Canadian Government Restricts Web Access due to Phishing Attacks

The Treasury Board Secretariat of the Federal Government of Canada was penetrated by various attacks, to the point that Internet access is now blocked for employees.

In an environment where a Canadian government has already been successfully attacked online, does it make sense to put the entire Canadian voting infrastructure online? Does anyone imagine that those voting servers, and the desktops (and perhaps mobile devices) that connect to them, won't be an even more attractive target than the running government? Considering that the Federal Government is a completely managed computer desktop environment (all desktops overseen and monitored by system administrators) and it was still compromised, while public voters use completely unmanaged desktops, does anyone imagine the situation will be better in a public vote?

In any case, as I said, security is a distraction. Non-experts are not good at making computer security judgements, and companies with agendas can throw up all kinds of technical obfuscating arguments about secure monitoring of networks etc. etc. etc.

The real fundamental questions are core elements of our current system, which CANNOT BE REPLICATED online:

* simplicity and ease of understanding
- anyone can understand how a paper voting system works; only a tiny percentage of the population can understand how an Internet voting system works - assuming they actually are provided with all the details, which they usually aren't

This is why online voting is the OPPOSITE of open government. You can't get any more open than ballots publically cast in secret, publically counted. You can't get any more closed than bits travelling invisibly across wires, to systems people cannot see and cannot understand.

* verifiability
- anyone can verify a paper vote by recounting the ballots; no one can verify an online election, because no matter how many levels deep you dig, at the bottom the answer is "trust the numbers in the computer" - there is no outside evidence you can examine

* anonymity
- It is difficult to determine who marked a paper ballot. It is very very difficult to design a system where you can't determine exactly who submitted an electronic vote.

* non-coercion
- Does anyone imagine that someone sitting at home clicking a button on a computer can't be forced to do so by someone watching over them? Or even if force isn't used, what is the impact of peer pressure as people watch your vote on screen at "voting parties"?

The list continues - cost, ownership of voting infrastructure...

And last but not least, voter turnout.
This voter turnout issue is total BS. It's a complete backwards view of voter engagement.
If you start with the assumption that people don't vote because it is "hard" or "inconvenient" then the logical conclusion is to make it "easy" and "convenient".

The problem is this assumption is WRONG.
Voting is maybe an hour of your time outside your house. This is not a huge barrier. The same young demographic that is supposedly the problem area that is fixed by online voting is quite happy to spend many many hours outside their houses, doing things they care about.

People don't vote because they don't care. They're not engaged.

You can use online technology to tremendous effect to engage and organise people online. However this does not in any way shape or form mean that that engagement needs to end with clicking a "Like" button to elect a political party online. That online engagement can and should turn into tremendous voter turnout at the physical ballot boxes.

As we've seen in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain and many other countries, you can get people outside, not just for an hour, but for days and weeks with their lives in danger, if they care.

You want to fix voter turnout, get voters engaged.

If you think instead the solution is to make a voting button on a screen, you're not only missing the point, you're insulting the fundamental concepts of democratic participation.

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UPDATE April 3, 2011: The domain and email should be working again. ENDUPDATE

Unfortunately I just discovered that in the ZoneEdit DNS service migration to a new platform, my papervotecanada.ca domain has gotten completely broken - no web redirects and no email. My apologies. I have contacted them to get this repaired.

In the meantime, blog URL http://papervotecanada.blogspot.com/ as well as this temporary gmail email address will work.


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