Last Thursday, whilst most of us in the UK went down to the polling stations to vote, a significant number of us failed to make the effort for one reason or another. The voting turnout for the 2015 UK general election was just 66%, only managing a one percent increase on the previous election.
Accessibility may have been a factor in this. It seems that many of those who neglected to vote would have been more inclined to do so if only they were able to cast their votes online.
We, in the UK, now manage so many aspects of our lives online. It seems only natural that we would use this technology to allow national voting via the internet.
So, it’ll come as no surprise to learn that online voting has been piloted on a small scale in the UK, but it clearly wasn’t deemed ready in time for the recent general election. Will it be ready to deploy in five years time?
The Digital Democracy Commission set up by the House of Commons Speaker John Bercow published a report last January saying that people should be offered the opportunity to cast their vote online in the 2020 general election.
Labour seem pretty keen too, a spokeswoman said that “Labour is committed to looking at radical ways of encouraging more people to vote, by making the process easier and more in tune with the way people live their lives. Labour will pilot secure systems for electronic voting, including online voting.”
But many have real concerns.
“I feel moving to electronic voting would be a huge task for any government. We can’t be under any illusion that this would be easy to achieve.” says Conservative MP Sam Gyimah.
“The fact electronic voting is incredibly rare across the globe I believe is testament to some of the problems delivering it.”
And there’s reason to believe that he may be right.
The Open Rights Group have exposed their concerns over the security of online voting:
“Voting is a uniquely difficult question for computer science: the system must verify your eligibility to vote; know whether you have already voted; and allow for audits and recounts. Yet it must always preserve your anonymity and privacy. Currently, there are no practical solutions to this highly complex problem and existing systems are unacceptably flawed.”
Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales is also concerned that “Voting from home and not behind a curtain in a public place may mean that for certain kinds of people in society their votes may be coerced or bought.”
For a more detailed account of the security implications regarding current online voting technology check out this video from J. Alex Halderman, University of Michigan:
It looks to me as though internet voting has some pretty fundamental problems right now. The majority of people will not be able to easily understand the processes involved and so they will ultimately not trust the generated outcome. Even the developers of such a system would at some point need to wait for their code to run inside a “black box” before they’d get see the result, they won’t be able to see it working.
Determined hackers have always been one step ahead of corporate and government institutions when it comes to system integrity, we could never be totally sure of any system’s immunity to attacks from outside.
I’ll be surprised and concerned if we do end up with an online voting option come 2020.