Province of Nova Scotia Internet voting

(This post is about provincial-level voting, not the municipal elections covered in the Municipal Elections Act.)

The Election Commission of Nova Scotia examined Internet voting in 2013. Their report is available within Elections Nova Scotia: Annual Report of the Chief Electoral Officer April 1, 2012 – March 31, 2013 (PDF) – specifically pp. 14-16 Appendix I: Internet and Telephone Voting in Nova Scotia.

They find:

After considering the literature available, including a careful review of Elections BC’s Discussion Paper on Internet Voting3, the Commission members developed a unanimous position that it is premature to entertain either Internet based or telephone voting options at this time.

3Elections BC – Discussion Paper: Internet Voting (PDF) – August 2011

The NS Commission identified the following questions:

  1. How secure are Internet and telephone-based voting transactions?
  2. Can service availability be guaranteed?
  3. How do you know it is me voting?

Experts warn that currently no transaction using the Internet can be guaranteed to be secure. Despite advances in security, there is still the chance a voter’s identity and voting choice could be exposed, or that someone could vote with someone else’s credentials.
The possibility of collecting family members’ PINs and then voting on their behalf increases significantly in the privacy of one’s own home. At their very best, lists of electors rarely surpass a 95 percent coverage and accuracy level. Under Internet or telephone voting arrangements, the chance of being caught voting on behalf of someone else is minimal.

    1. Is there an audit trail I can follow?

In the existing traditional paper based voting system, …. A record exists of how many people voted and identity information (but not how they voted) exists about each person who cast a ballot at an assigned ballot box. That is the “before state.” Ballots can then be physically verified and recounted by a provincial court judge. The number of ballots counted must correspond exactly to the recorded number of people who voted at that polling station.
Perhaps the largest leap of faith with Internet and telephone voting is the fact that there is no “before state” examinable. While an auditor can easily demonstrate that the number of votes cast equals the number of votes counted, there remains considerable debate whether there is a satisfactory and transparent way to compare how many of those votes were actually cast by electors verified as registered and not having voted before, and whether each vote was accurately recorded by the software used.

  1. Can I watch the count?

The traditional method of voting achieves transparency by having the acts of voting and counting take place in controlled physical locations, where observers representing all interested parties can witness the process and ensure that all required procedures are properly followed.
Technology encases the voting and counting process in a “black box,” which reduces transparency and, potentially, public confidence. …
In addition to the known insecurities, a provincial general election conducted on an Internet platform for web or telephone voting could elicit new levels of unknown threats from hackers seeking to gain a high profile from a successful attack. Consider also that the most serious attacks would likely come from persons or groups motivated to change the outcome without anyone noticing.
With that in mind, the adversaries of an election system would not likely be amateurs n basements but interested groups and individuals with a significant stake in the outcome of an election.

And finally to quote from their Conclusion

Until credible answers to [the questions above] are available, and until functioning, transparent Internet and telephone voting systems have been demonstrated and proven, extreme caution and prudence is required.

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