Category: Internet voting

Securing the Vote – US National Academies 2018 consensus report

The US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) uses a comprehensive study process to ensure high standards of scientific and technical quality.

On September 6, 2018 they released their 2018 consensus report

Securing the Vote: Protecting American Democracy

The report is available to download as a PDF (login isn’t required, you can download as a guest) and is also posted to read online.  (See blog note 1 for the definition of a consensus report.)

The key conclusions highlighted in the introduction to the release are:

All U.S. Elections Should Use Paper Ballots by 2020 …; Internet Voting Should Not Be Used at This Time

Emphasis (bolding) above mine.

Ensuring the Integrity of Elections

Chapter 5: Ensuring the Integrity of Elections contains many sections relevant to voting technology.  Below are selected extracts only; please read the entire chapter for the full details.

Malware (pp. 86-87)

Malware can be introduced at any point in the electronic path of a vote—from the software behind the vote-casting interface to the software tabulating votes—to prevent a voter’s vote from being recorded as intended.

Maintaining Voter Anonymity (pp. 87-88)

With remote voting—voting outside of publicly monitored poll sites—it may not be difficult to compromise voter privacy. When voting, for example, by mail, fax, or via the Internet, individuals can be coerced or paid to vote for particular candidates outside the oversight of election administrators.

Election Cybersecurity

Election Cybersecurity (pp. 88-93)

Vulnerabilities arise because of the complexity of modern information technology (IT) systems and human fallibility in making judgments about what actions are safe or unsafe from a cybersecurity perspective. Moreover, cybersecurity is a never-ending challenge. It is unlikely that permanent protections against cyber threats will be developed in the near future given that cybersecurity threats evolve and that adversaries continually adopt new techniques to compromise systems or overcome defenses.

Election Cybersecurity: Cybersecurity and Vote Tabulation (p. 91)

Because there is no realistic mechanism to fully secure vote casting and tabulation computer systems from cyber threats, one must adopt methods that can assure the accuracy of the election outcome without relying on the hardware and software used to conduct the election. Uniform adoption of auditing best practices does not prevent tampering with the results collected and tabulated by computers. It can allow such tampering to be detected and often corrected.

I would clarify that it can only allow such tampering to be detected if there are paper ballots to audit.

Election Cybersecurity: Factors that Exacerbate Cybersecurity Concerns (p. 92)

Changing threat. Traditionally, the goal has been to secure against election fraud by corrupt candidates or their supporters who may attempt to favor a particular candidate by altering or destroying votes or tampering with the vote tally. The 2016 election vividly illustrated that hostile state actors can also pose a threat. These actors often possess more sophisticated capabilities and can apply greater resources to the conduct of such operations. Moreover, they may have other goals than shifting the outcome for a particular candidate.

Specifically they may be seeking to undermine confidence in the election process and systems, which is a different kind of attack than changing an outcome.  Any kind of visible or detectable interference such as defacing websites, Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS), or disclosure of information from within voting systems may achieve the goal of undermining confidence.

Election Cybersecurity: [Consensus] Findings (p. 92-93)

There is no realistic mechanism to fully secure vote casting and tabulation computer systems from cyber threats.

In comparison with other sectors (e.g., banking), the election sector is not following best security practices with regard to cybersecurity.

Even if best practices are applied, systems will not be completely secure.

Foreign state–sponsored attacks present a challenge for even the most responsible and well-resourced jurisdictions. Small, under-resourced jurisdictions are at serious risk.

Better cybersecurity is not a substitute for effective auditing.

I will highlight just one item from the review of End-to-end-verifiability, and I want to make it clear it is a conclusion about voting technology, not about end-to-end verifiability

Complicated and technology-dependent voting systems increase the risk of (and opportunity for) malicious manipulation.

Internet Voting

Internet Voting is covered on pages 101 to 106, including specific examination of Blockchains from pages 103 to 105.  Below are selected extracts only; please read the entire section in the document for the full details.

Internet Voting (pp. 101-106)

Insecure Internet voting is possible now, but the risks currently associated with Internet voting are more significant than the benefits. Secure Internet voting will likely not be feasible in the near future.

Emphasis (bolding) above mine.

Internet Voting: Blockchains (pp. 103-105)

blockchain technology does little to solve the fundamental security issues of elections, and indeed, blockchains introduce additional security vulnerabilities. In particular, if malware on a voter’s device alters a vote before it ever reaches a blockchain, the immutability of the blockchain fails to provide the desired integrity, and the voter may never know of the alteration.

Internet Voting: [Consensus] Findings (p. 106)

The Internet is not currently a suitable medium for the transmission of marked ballots, as Internet-based voting systems in which votes are cast on remote computers or other electronic devices and submitted electronically cannot be made adequately secure today.

The use of blockchains in an election scenario would do little to address the major security requirements of voting, such as voter verifiability. … In the particular case of Internet voting, blockchain methods do not redress the security issues associated with Internet voting.

Internet Voting: Recommendations (p. 106)

5.11 At the present time, the Internet (or any network connected to the Internet) should not be used for the return of marked ballots.35,36 Further, Internet voting should not be used in the future until and unless very robust guarantees of security and verifiability are developed and in place…

35 Inclusive of transmission via email or fax or via phone lines.

36 The Internet is an acceptable medium for the transmission of unmarked ballots to voters so long as voter privacy is maintained and the integrity of the received ballot is protected.

[1] Note: The NASEM defines a consensus report as follows

Consensus Study Report: Consensus Study Reports published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine document the evidence-based consensus on the study’s statement of task by an authoring committee of experts. Reports typically include findings, conclusions, and recommendations based on information gathered by the committee and the committee’s deliberations. Each report has been subjected to a rigorous and independent peer-review process and it represents the position of the National Academies on the statement of task.

[2] The report may be cited as e.g.

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. Securing the Vote: Protecting American Democracy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi:10.17226/25120

UK 2005 Securing the Vote report and 2007 e-voting trials

Nothing remains of the May 2005 Securing the Vote report on the UK Electoral Commission site.  There used to be a page Securing the vote – detailed proposals for electoral change announced but it is now gone.

The only location where a copy could be found was in a document repository from The Guardian newspaper:

The UK did extensive reporting on the 2007 pilots, the website was but it is no longer online. There is a copy in the Internet Archive.

Although there is no longer an organising page on the Electoral Commission page, some of the reports from 2007 are still available from them, as well as being copied in the Internet Archive.

There are two considerations to highlight from the UK Electronic Voting Summary:

  • New voting methods should be rolled out only once their security and reliability have been fully tested and proven and they can command wide public confidence.
  • The necessary costs for secure and reliable systems must be able to be reasonably met by the public purse.

I will highlight only one item from the Technical Assessments of the e-voting Pilots, item 3.4.4 from Assessment of the pilot process – Quality management:

While there were variations between the different pilots, in all cases the quality and testing arrangements appeared to be inadequate. It is difficult to tell whether this was purely because of lack of time, or whether some of the suppliers were not used to implementing effective quality processes. Significant quality management failings include:
a. Lack of detailed design documentation;
b. Lack of evidence of design or code reviews or other mechanisms for ensuring that the solutions operate correctly and do not include deliberate or accidental security flaws;
c. Lack of evidence of effective configuration management.

This kind of haphazard voting software development has been shockingly common, e.g. for US voting machines as well.

Note: The preceding is extracted from previous blog post Province of Ontario Internet voting.

2018 Ontario Provincial Election will not use Internet Voting

Following is verbatim from Elections Ontario Proposal for a technology-enabled staffing model for Ontario Provincial Elections (PDF), page 10 “Why are we not proposing internet voting?”, published sometime in 2016 or 2017.  (Also available from the Legislative Assembly of Ontario Library.)

Recognizing that many of the societal changes we have discussed have been possible because of the evolution of the internet, the questions often posed is: why, when other jurisdictions (such as Ontario municipalities) are moving toward internet voting, is Elections Ontario not exploring or proposing an internet voting solution?

Elections Ontario explored the possibility of internet voting in a comprehensive research study conducted between 2010 and 2012. Recommendations and the full analysis of the study can be found in the Alternative Voting Technologies Report available on our website. In the report Elections Ontario provides implementation criteria for networked voting, and outlines the current barriers to those criteria being met. To date, Elections Ontario has not found a networked voting solution that would protect the integrity of the electoral process.

Because of the requirement for a paper ballot, for the purposes of this pilot project the introduction of internet voting does not address our primary concern: reducing staffing requirements for a General Election. To reduce the staffing requirements for a General Election a solution that maintained a paper ballot while automating processes at the voting location was required. Internet voting may provide another channel for electors to use in the future; however, it would not itself reduce the required staff at voting locations.

Internet voting is often considered in the context of increasing voter turnout. As mentioned in the Alternative Voting Technologies Report there is no conclusive evidence that internet voting will have a positive impact on turnout. More recently, the Internet Voting Project published a report[1] on the 2014 Ontario Municipal Elections that supports this assessment that there is not a correlation between internet voting and increased turnout.

[1] Internet voting project report: results from the 2014 Ontario Municipal Elections.  [Editor’s note: It’s not completely clear which report they are referring to, but probably Internet Voting Project Report August 2016 which states on page 65 “despite comments about observed improvements in turnout, this study, and other research, clearly indicates that Internet voting is not the magic bullet solution to improve voter participation or to engage young people”.]

The Alternative Voting Technologies Report mentioned is available in two parts:

I have also written extensively about the Elections Ontario Alternative Voting Technologies Report in blog post Province of Ontario Internet voting.

San Francisco Internet voting

By a unanimous 6-0 vote, on April 19, 2017 the San Francisco Elections Commission recommended against Internet voting at all levels of government:

RESOLVED, That it be the policy of the Elections Commission to oppose allowing votes in United States local, state, and federal elections to be cast over the internet, including by email.

See San Francisco Elections Commission – Resolution on Internet Voting (PDF)

Canadian reports recommending against Internet voting

Internet voting has been studied.  Again and again.  Any time there is a comprehensive study, it recommends against online voting.

Here are the Canadian federal and provincial reports:

  • New Brunswick (A pathway to an inclusive democracy) – 2017
  • Government of Canada (Strengthening Democracy In Canada: Principles, Process And Public Engagement For Electoral Reform) – 2016
  • Prince Edward Island (Considerations for Applying E-Voting Options [Internet voting] in Canadian Public Elections – Independent Technical Panel on Voting Integrity) – 2016
  • British Columbia (Independent Panel on Internet Voting) – 2014
  • Ontario (Alternative Voting Technologies Report) – 2013
  • Nova Scotia (Internet and Telephone Voting in Nova Scotia) – 2012
  • Quebec (Evaluation Report of the New Methods of Voting that were Used during the Municipal Elections of November 2005 / Élections municipales de novembre 2005 : Rapport d’évaluation des nouveaux mécanismes de votation) – 2006

I can’t list every municipality, but here are a few municipal reports as well:

  • Toronto (EX20.5 – Changes to the Municipal Elections Act and Related Matters Impacting the 2018 Election – Part B – Voting Technology) – 2016
  • Waterloo (CORP2016-105 Alternative Voting Methods (Internet Voting)) – 2016

I don’t know how many times you have to study the exact same thing, year after year, decade after decade, before you eventually agree with the conclusion that we should not implement Internet voting.  Apparently many times.

It is very unfortunate that both Ontario and Nova Scotia, having investigated and rejected Internet voting at the provincial level, have left it to individual municipalities to decide whether to adopt Internet voting municipally, without any briefing or guidance or standards.  Basically municipalities are left to google and decide.  If the provinces had set even basic requirements, such as an independent public security test of all Internet voting systems, things would have gone very differently.  (If you think having independent public security tests of the systems would have too much risk, it’s worth mentioning that even the US Department of Defence has an official “Hack the Pentagon” initiative.)

Finland recommends against Internet voting

Finland did an extensive study in 2017, running from February to November, and reported its final results in December.

The report concluded that the risks of online voting outweigh its benefits.

The original government web page has been replaced by a new page: Nettiäänestyksen esiselvitys. Documents are in section Asiakirjat (“Documentation”).
SIDEBAR: The last archive of the previous Nettiäänestys page is from June 16, 2017. END SIDEBAR

Press releases


Key Statements

Online voting technology and the development of the structures required for the system are not yet at a level that would enable a sufficiently secure implementation and introduction of the system. There are still open questions in terms of verifiability and the secrecy of the ballot. It is not expected that the key risks related to online voting would be solved in the next few years.
The monitoring group came into the conclusion that online voting should not be introduced in general elections, because the risks involved are greater than the benefits. Online voting would not resolve the current problems, such as the low voter turnout.

March 14, 2017  Internet voting in Finland