The arguments in favour of online voting are very clear and the evidence suggests that making the process of voting easier would increase participation. On the other side of the debate, security and specifically identity assurance are always raised as cautionary points, and there are always questions around the inclusivity of online systems.
If we can be confident about banking online, surely we can vote online securely?
The trick is that the relationship between a citizen and a government is fundamentally different to that of a citizen and a bank. With a bank or any service provider the agreement is an equal handshake, whereas you have no choice but to be a citizen of a nation: you have to have a relationship of some sort with the government, whether you like it or not. And you can’t quit your government-assigned identity in the same way that you can terminate your relationship with a bank or another service provider.
“If you want to vote online, rest assured the government is going to set a high bar on identity assurance. They will provide and manage your government-approved identity, so citizens will need to be comfortable signing up for that.
What would an online voting system look like?
As a society, we want voting to be fast, simple and secure, all of which are possible through online voting. To deliver online voting we not only need a government-approved identity system, but also a voting mechanism which uses that identity and is trusted by government and citizens alike. This would need to be a platform or series of platforms which is secure but also highly transparent. The whole thing would need an independent overseeing organisation to check the systems and the process. This makes the entire system more onerous and more expensive than the current paper process.
“It’s possible to build these systems from scratch, but it’s expensive. Everyone in the country has to be assigned an identity and these have to be guaranteed and managed on an ongoing basis. For this reason, one option could be to use an existing third-party platform or database as the basis for online voting.
What are the advantages of online voting?
The evidence suggests that making voting easier would increase engagement and participation, which is a positive thing for democracy and society in general. At a practical level, the whole process can be much quicker and less prone to errors. Recounts would be a thing of the past. Postal voting would be eliminated, so the process of collecting votes from eligible citizens living abroad would be made faster and easier rather than weeks of postal voting.
And because the whole process would be so much quicker, populations could vote on many more issues and governments could get more granular feedback on important questions.
Could Facebook/Twitter/Google provide online voting at some point in the future?
I think it’s unlikely that Facebook or Twitter would ever be used as the sole platform to enable online voting. What’s more likely is for Facebook or Twitter to provide a sort of online polling station, which connects your government ID with your Facebook identity and then offers an online voting portal. It’s not inconceivable that Facebook or Twitter could be the voting booth of the future.
Are there any potential downsides to online voting?
When your vote is tied to a government-approved identity system, it’s really hard to assure anyone that this process is anonymous. How can any citizen be sure that the government won’t know who you voted for?
A sting in the tail of all of this is that everybody needs to have access to this system, otherwise people who can’t participate might well become disenfranchised or less politically engaged. Polling booths might be inconvenient for some, but they’re designed to be very inclusive. Not everyone has internet access or uses a smartphone. So to ensure inclusivity, any online voting process would have to run in parallel with a traditional paper ballot system for a long time to come.
By Geoff Webb, VP, solution strategy at NetIQ
BIO : Geoff Webb has over 20 years of experience in the tech industry and is the Director of Solution Strategy at NetIQ. He is responsible for the NetIQ Information Security, Identity and Access and IT Operations Management solutions.Webb joins NetIQ from Credant Technologies, where he led marketing around their data protection and encryption management solutions. Previously, Webb also served as a senior manager of Product Marketing at NetIQ, and held other management positions at FutureSoft, SurfControl and JSB.Webb often provides commentary on security and compliance trends, and has written on a number of related topics for such journals and websites as: USA Today, CIO Update, Healthcare IT News, The Tech Herald, Compliance Authority, Virtual Strategy Magazine, TechBlind, Internetnews.com, e-Finance & Payments, Law & Policy, Dark Reading, BankInfoSecurity.com, Payment News, Wired and InfoSecurity.com, among others. He holds a combined bachelor of science degree in computer science and prehistoric archaeology from the University of Liverpool.