Insight from the mind of Randall Munroe.
Category: Internet voting
Insight from the mind of Randall Munroe.
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 on the 2014 Ontario Municipal Elections that supports this assessment that there is not a correlation between internet voting and increased turnout.
 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.
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.
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:
I can’t list every municipality, but here are a few municipal reports as well:
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 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
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
Prince Edward Island (PEI) – 2016 Plebiscite on Democratic Renewal – Voting Integrity Audit Report – from the Independent Technical Panel on Voting Integrity (ITPVI) – November 30, 2016
This report is Section 3 Appendix in the 2016 Annual Report of the Chief Electoral Officer of PEI (PDF), starting on page 35.
Section 11 of the Voting Integrity Audit Report is Considerations for Applying E-Voting Options [Internet voting] in Canadian Public Elections.
The report recommends against Internet voting at the federal and provincial levels, except for absentee voters.
There is a need to maintain an acute level of awareness of the risks to electoral integrity that these new voting methods present. The implications of a breach of the public trust that exists today suggests strongly that internet and telephone voting in Canadian provincial and federal parliamentary elections be considered channels that should be limited to use only by absentee voters for the immediate foreseeable future. …
It is important that leaders in Canadian electoral administration manage public expectations and articulate their concerns about the fact that a perfectly secure and fool-proof electronic voting system does not yet exist.
This recommendation was picked up in the news media, e.g. CBC News PEI – Online voting not ready for federal, provincial election: officials – May 4, 2017.
The group concluded a high-stakes provincial or federal election could attract groups looking to intervene in illicit ways through cyber-attacks, hacking or other means.
The report also does an excellent job of showing the “additional risks and controls associated with online electronic voting” [Internet voting]. These include (highlighting by me):
1. Trusted digital voter identification and authentication is a requisite additional control. An irrefutable digital identity is the first safeguard in ensuring that eligible voters can vote (and can vote only once), and in ensuring that ineligible voters are not permitted to vote. Establishing this identity with a robust ‘shared secret’ is a mandatory prerequisite.
2. The onus is on the buyers, designers, developers, maintainers and operators of any electronic voting system to demonstrate rigor in the specifications, certifications, accreditations, testing and operation of the e-voting system to ensure it is able to mitigate the full range of risks to a reasonable and acceptable level. This has to be achieved to a level of satisfaction regarding both hardware and software risk mitigation. The remaining level of risk needs to be accepted by all stakeholders.
3. With the elimination of the controls that were previously implemented in manually controlled voting processes (refer Appendix ‘G’: Controls C1 – C5), traditional risks are not as fully mitigated as before. In fact, the following risks are difficult to mitigate in any meaningful way:
a. Vote buying / vote secrecy (“I’ll just take a selfie in front of my screen”)
b. Voter coercion (Unless reported, it is impossible to determine if a vote is being coerced)
4. The risk of a voter voting with stolen credentials can only be partially mitigated by effective voters list management and the implementation of a trusted digital voter identification and authentication scheme. Digital voter identification must be robust, but it must also be easily managed so as not to become a barrier to voting because it is overly complex for a voter to use as seldom as once every four years.
5. The additional risks of compromised end-user hardware or software, or a broad regional or national attack on internet infrastructure, remain unmitigated.
The report also identifies the extremely high standard to which we must hold Internet voting, as the transparency provided by conducting paper ballot voting and counting in public are lost when using completely computerized processes. Highlighting added by me.
The onus is also completely on the online electronic voting system implementer to ensure that controls are established within the e-voting system that meet the legislative requirements of the jurisdiction, and provide an adequate level of transparency for all stakeholders. Simply depositing electronic votes into a ‘black-box’ where they are stored and counted is unlikely to meet stakeholder demands for maintaining a high level of public confidence, unlikely to publicly show that voting risks are continuing to be
managed responsibly, and unlikely to prove to candidates and political parties that the electoral process and controls continue to deliver a trusted and accurate result.
SIDEBAR on turnout:
A demonstration of the reality of Internet voting turnout was the 2016 Prince Edward Island Plebiscite on Democratic Renewal which had 10 days of online voting in addition to two days of in-person voting. Not only was the overall turnout low at 36.5%, but the turnout for ages 18-24 was the lowest of any age range, at 25.47%.
Numbers from McLeod, G. B. (2016, November 9). Interim Report of the Chief Electoral Officer for the 2016 Plebiscite on Democratic Renewal. http://www.gov.pe.ca/photos/original/elec_demrefpleb.pdf
Estonian municipal council elections finished at 8pm on October 15, 2017.
I’m writing now at 10:37pm Estonian time, as the results have been posted online. I will update this post if there are changes.
UPDATE 2017-10-17: Some information for context
Summary: ONLINE VOTING IS NOT A SOLUTION FOR INCREASING TURNOUT.
There is no Internet voting on election day in Estonia, the online voting system is only available for advance voting.
The total number of Internet votes cast was 186,034 (one hundred eighty-six thousand thirty-four). I don’t like comparing different types of elections as they have different characteristics, but just for the sake of a complete picture, the total number of Internet votes cast in the Parliamentary elections in 2015 was 176,329. So the total increase is 9,705 (nine thousand seven hundred and five). UPDATE 2017-10-17: However note that the local elections draw from a much larger pool of eligible voters. END UPDATE
So while 186k online votes is indeed a record for Estonia, it is a relatively small absolute increase. And I would caution strongly against projecting this result of under 200k online votes to jurisdictions with tens or hundreds of millions of voters.
The total number of votes cast was 367,199 (three hundred sixty-seven thousand, one hundred and ninety-nine), for a total turnout of 53.2%.
UPDATE 2017-10-17: The total number of votes cast was 586,523 (five hundred eight-six thousands five hundreds and twenty-three), for a total turnout of 53.3%.
Turnout DROPPED from the 2013 local elections, which had a turnout of 58%, for a turnout DROP of 4.7%.
So just to make my point super clear: Estonia has had online voting since 2005. After 12 years of offering online voting, they have managed a turnout of just over 50%, and that turnout dropped from the previous local election.
ONLINE VOTING IS NOT A SOLUTION FOR INCREASING TURNOUT.
You can see turnout percentages for this election at https://kov2017.valimised.ee/osavotu-statistika.html and details for past elections at http://vvk.ee/voting-methods-in-estonia/engindex/statistics/
UPDATE 2017-10-17: You can see the total number of eligible voters, the total number of votes cast, and the total number of Internet votes at https://kov2017.valimised.ee/valimistulemus-vald.html END UPDATE
On https://kov2017.valimised.ee/osavotu-statistika.html the turnout for online voting
seems to be is a separate item called E-HÄÄLI but I have to say I don’t really understand the numbers other than total turnout shown in the bottom right and the Internet voting turnout (as a percentage of TOTAL eligible voters) is 16.9%. That is to say, only 16.9% of eligible Estonian voters chose to cast their ballot online.
There were seven days of advance voting (including Internet voting) in total, from October 5 to October 11. You can see an overview of the voting schedule at https://www.valimised.ee/et/kohaliku-omavalitsuse-volikogu-valimised-2017 or in English at https://www.valimised.ee/en/municipal-council-election-2017
July 8, 2016 Estonian Internet voting and turnout myths