Category: Links to documents

British Columbia Internet voting

British Columbia had an Independent Panel on Internet Voting, whose report was submitted in February 2014.  The report is a comprehensive review of the topic.  It recommends against Internet voting for provincial and municipal elections.

1. Do not implement universal Internet voting for either local government or provincial government elections at this time.

It also provides an excellent list of criteria against which any Internet voting system should be evaluated, and indicates that these principles must be met in addition to any standards a technical committee would establish.

Accessibility

The Internet voting process must be readily available to, and usable by, all voters eligible to vote by Internet voting, even in the presence of Internet voting-specific threats.

Ballot anonymity

The voting process must prevent at any stage of the election the ability to connect a voter and the ballot(s) cast by the voter.

Individual and independent verifiability

The voting process will provide for the voter to verify that their vote has been counted as cast, and for the tally to be verified by the election administration, political parties and candidate representatives.

Non-reliance on trustworthiness of the voter’s device(s)

The security of the Internet voting system and the secrecy of the ballot should not depend on the trustworthiness of the voter’s device(s).

One vote per voter

Only one vote per voter is counted for obtaining the election results.
This will be fulfilled even in the case where the voter is allowed to cast their vote on multiple occasions (in some systems, people can cast their vote multiple times, with only the last one being counted).

Only count votes from eligible voters

The electoral process shall ensure that the votes used in the counting process are the ones cast by eligible voters.

Process validation and transparency

The procedures, technology, source code, design and implementation details, and documentation of the system must be available in their entirety for free and unconstrained evaluation by anyone for testing and review for an appropriate length of time before, during and after the system is to be used. Policies and procedures must be in place to respond to issues that arise. Appropriate oversight and transparency are key to ensuring the integrity of the voting process and facilitating stakeholder trust.

Service availability

The election process and any of its critical components (e.g., voters list information, cast votes, voting channel, etc.) will be available as required to voters, election administrators, observers or any others involved in the process. If Internet voting should become unavailable or compromised, alternative voting opportunities should be available.

Voter authentication and authorization

The electoral process will ensure that before allowing a voter to cast a vote, that the identity of the voter is the same as claimed, and that the voter is eligible to vote.

Above from Independent Panel on Internet Voting – Recommendations Report to the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia – February 2014 (PDF) – principles are specifically from Recommendation 4

All Internet voting systems currently in use in Canada fail to meet one or more of these principles. In particular, the systems used for municipal voting in Ontario and Nova Scotia are provided by third-party private for-profit vendors, and do not provide any of the process validation and transparency described above.

New Brunswick Internet voting

New Brunswick had a Commission on Electoral Reform that took online submissions starting at the end of 2016, held meetings in January 2017, and submitted its report at the beginning of March 2017.

The Commission recommended against Internet voting.

Therefore, the commission makes the following recommendations:

  • The government not proceed with electronic voting at this time, due to concerns related to security, confidentiality and privacy.

above from A pathway to an inclusive democracy (PDF) – Goal 3: E-voting – pages 20-21

La Commission fait donc les recommandations suivantes :

  • Que le gouvernement n’aille pas de l’avant avec le vote électronique pour le moment, en raison des préoccupations relatives à la sécurité, à la confidentialité et au respect de la vie privée.

En voie vers une démocratie inclusive (PDF) – Troisième but : le vote électronique/par Internet – de la page 20 à la page 21

I submitted a 16-page briefing to the Commission.

Previously:
January 1, 2017  New Brunswick Electoral Reform Commission meeting dates
November 27, 2016  Brief submitted to New Brunswick Commission on Electoral Reform – November 2016
November 20, 2016  New Brunswick electoral reform consultation including Internet voting

Election Infrastructure declared critical by US Dept of Homeland Security

Election infrastructure is vital to our national interests, and cyber attacks on this country are becoming more sophisticated, and bad cyber actors – ranging from nation states, cyber criminals and hacktivists – are becoming more sophisticated and dangerous.

Statement by [US Department of Homeland Security] Secretary Jeh Johnson on the Designation of Election Infrastructure as a Critical Infrastructure Subsector – January 6, 2017

There was also a joint statement from US intelligence agencies about  Foreign Cyber Threats to the U.S. issued on January 5, 2017

Despite ever-improving cyber defenses, nearly all information, communication networks, and systems will be at risk for years to come from remote hacking to establish persistent covert access, supply chain operations that insert compromised hardware or software, malicious actions by trusted insiders, and mistakes by system users. In short, the cyber threat cannot be eliminated. Rather, cyber risk must be managed in the context of overall business and operational risk. At present, however, the risk calculus some private and public sector entities employ does not adequately account for foreign cyber threats or systemic interdependencies between different critical infrastructure sectors.

(Emphasis mine.)
The report concludes that things are only going to get worse.

Over the next five years, technological change will only accelerate the intersection of cyber and physical devices, creating new risks. Adversaries are likely to further explore cyber-enabled psychological operations and may look to steal or manipulate data to gain strategic advantage or undermine confidence.

Joint Statement for the Record on Foreign Cyber Threats to the U.S. to the Senate Armed Services Committee – January 5, 2017

I am less interested in the details of specific events and specific actors, but nevertheless, on January 6, 2017 the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a joint CIA, FBI, NSA report: ICA 2017-01D “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections”

We assess Moscow will apply lessons learned from its Putin-ordered campaign aimed at the US presidential election to future influence efforts worldwide, including against US allies and their election processes.

(Emphasis mine.)
ICA 2017-01D Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections – January 6, 2017

Online voting doesn’t increase turnout

I wish I didn’t have to say this again and again, but I do.  Here’s what I wrote for the New Brunswick consultation

The City of Kitchener’s 2012 report on Internet voting finds that “There is clear evidence that, regardless of geography internet voting does not attract younger voters.” (Gosse, 2012) Similarly, the 2014 BC Independent Panel on Internet Voting finds in their report that “research suggests that Internet voting does not generally cause nonvoters to vote. Instead, Internet voting is mostly used as a tool of convenience for individuals who have already decided to vote.” (Archer, Beznosov, Crane, King, & Morfitt, 2014)

The paper “Reducing the Cost of Voting: An Empirical Evaluation of Internet Voting’s Effect on Local Elections” by Nichole Goodman and Leah Stokes reviews extensive evidence from online voting in Ontario municipalities and finds that “internet voting is unlikely to solve the low turnout crisis”. (Goodman & Stokes, 2016) A recent 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%. (McLeod, 2016)

Gosse, R. (2012, December 10). FCS-12- 191 – Alternate Voting – Internet Voting. Retrieved from City of Kitchener – Laserfiche WebLink: https://lf.kitchener.ca/WebLinkExt/DocView.aspx?id=1235356&dbid=0

Archer, K., Beznosov, K., Crane, L.-A., King, V., & Morfitt, G. (2014, February 12). Recommendations Report to the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia. Retrieved from British Columbia Independent Panel on Internet Voting: http://www.internetvotingpanel.ca/docs/recommendations-report.pdf

Goodman, N., & Stokes, L. C. (2016, October 6). Reducing the Cost of Voting: An Empirical Evaluation of Internet Voting’s Effect on Local Elections. Retrieved from Social Science Research Network (SSRN): https://ssrn.com/abstract=2849167

McLeod, G. B. (2016, November 9). Interim Report of the Chief Electoral Officer for the 2016 Plebiscite on Democratic Renewal. Retrieved from Elections Prince Edward Island: http://www.gov.pe.ca/photos/original/elec_demrefpleb.pdf

But there’s more, much more than that.
Halifax has online voting. Turnout dropped by more than 10,000 in the 2016 Halifax election.

In the last municipal election in 2012, 66,272 people voted by e-vote and phone (22.2 per cent of the entire vote). At the close of e-voting Thursday, the HRM registered 55,788 electronic and telephone votes.

Evidence again and again shows that online voting does not increase participation, by youth or by any voting group.  All that happens is that (mostly middle-aged) people who would have voted at a polling station anyway vote online.
Evidence:

Young ontario voters (aged 18-24) more likely to use paper ballots than internet voting

above from Internet Voting Project Twitter – https://twitter.com/ivotingproject/status/660551650000699392 – 31 October 2015

  1. 3.100  Advocates also cite current Estonian and Swiss internet voting as improving equality and voter turnout, convenience and timely vote counting. However, these examples have either been consistently undermined in security analyses (in the case of Estonia) or have not been proven in a general election (in the case of Switzerland).

above from Parliament of Australia – Inquiry into and report on all aspects of the conduct of the 2013 Federal Election and matters related thereto Second Interim Report Chapter 3: National and international experience – Committee Comments
For more on Estonian Internet voting, see subsequent blog post (in legacy blog) Estonian Internet voting and turnout myths.

there was no impact on turnout, which actually decreased very slightly

above from UK Electoral Commission – Official report on internet voting pilot at Rushmoor elections published – June 3, 2008

Internet voting is seen by some as a potential solution to this trend of declining voter turnout. … While there have been some Internet voting elections where voter turnout has increased, when other factors such as the apparent closeness of the race and interest in particular contests (e.g., a mayoral election without an incumbent) are taken into consideration, research suggests that Internet voting does not generally cause non-voters to vote. Instead, Internet voting is mostly used as a tool of convenience for individuals who have already decided to vote.

above from BC Independent Panel on Internet Voting report (PDF) page 12 – February 2014

However, it said, there was no evidence that the trial led to a rise in the overall number of people voting nor that it mobilised new groups, such as young people, to vote.

above from BBC – E-voting experiments end in Norway amid security fears – 27 June 2014

At best, [Michael] McGregor said, the evidence is mixed. He sees internet voting as no different than advanced polls in that “it’s not increasing turnout, it’s just people who are already voting.”

[Nicole] Goodman’s data from municipal elections in the Toronto-area municipality of Markham, which has had internet voting since 2003, found that “those aged 35–64 are the strongest internet voting users in all election years and suggest that online ballots are growing in popularity among older voters while use is waning among younger voters.”

above from CBC News – Why hi-tech voting has low priority for Canadian elections – September 9, 2015

  • Statistics indicate that internet voting does not increase voter turnout or youth participation.

above from City of Mississauga report on Internet Voting – Potential enhancements for the 2018 Municipal Election: Internet Voting, Ranked Choice Elections and Vote Anywhere. (PDF) – June 20, 2016

Some content above adapted from legacy blog post evidence about online voting (particularly turnout).

In the Special Committee on Electoral Reform report Strengthening Democracy in Canada, they quote Harold Jansen

Harold Jansen posited that introducing online voting would not have any appreciable impact on voter turnout:

I also am suspicious of how great the gains would be in terms of voter turnout. I think most of the issues lie around motivation, not opportunity. I’m suspicious of a lot of things when people say on surveys, “Oh, I was too busy to vote”. Often, it just means, “There are other things more important to me than voting.” Okay, citizens can make those kinds of determinations. Voting is not that onerous, and I think Elections Canada has done a pretty good job in the last 20 years of improving the accessibility of the vote. There are more ways to vote than ever before.

I don’t think we should expect realistically huge gains in voter turnout. I don’t think that should be a motivation. It would be more convenient for some people, but these are people who would likely vote anyway. What I found was that the people most likely to say they were very likely to cast a vote in our survey were people who had already voted. They would just switch to doing it online.412

412ERRE, Evidence, 1st Session, 42nd Parliament, 22 August 2016, 2005 (Harold Jansen).

MyDemocracy and online voting in Canada

The Government of Canada consultation website MyDemocracy.ca has launched.  This was an opportunity to inform every Canadian household about electoral reform issues, including online voting.

On the site at the very bottom right, you can click to “Learn More”.

MyDemocracy Learn More

Summary: You will not get a comprehensive briefing about online voting from the government no matter how far down the trail of links you go.

My Briefing about Online Voting

Here’s what you could have gotten:

You also could have gotten

  • An completely separate briefing about the use of electronic voting technologies at polling places, along with the many risks, and an explanation that from an implementation standpoint, there is no connection whatsoever between implementing polling place technologies and remote online voting

Details of the Government’s Online Voting Information

Here’s what you will actually get.

Clicking Learn More will take you to https://www.canada.ca/en/democratic-institutions/services/democracy-canada.html

And here’s what that page, entitled Democracy in Canada, has to say about online voting, under How you vote – How you cast your ballot

Today, most of us vote in person by pencil and paper, either on election day itself or in the advance polls in the days beforehand. Many people also use special ballots, which are mailed in or cast at your local Elections Canada office. Introducing new technologies at the polls could pave the way for online voting in the future.

Aujourd’hui, la plupart d’entre nous votent en personne en utilisant un crayon et du papier, soit le jour même des élections, soit dans les bureaux de scrutin par anticipation dans les jours qui précèdent. De nombreuses personnes utilisent aussi des bulletins de vote spéciaux, qui sont envoyés par la poste ou déposés à votre bureau local d’Élections Canada. La mise en place de nouvelles technologies dans les bureaux de scrutin pourrait ouvrir la voie au vote en ligne dans les années à venir.

Where does this assertion that “new technologies” (electronic voting) could lead to online voting come from? What evidence supports it?

Where is the discussion paper / issues paper / briefing about online voting?  Why are we discussing electronic voting in polling places at all?

If, by some miracle, you scroll all the way to the bottom of the Democracy in Canada page, you will find two more resources, one from Samara about different types of voting systems that provides no additional information about online and electronic voting, and one from the Library of Parliament.

For more information about Canada's current electoral system

Clicking the Library of Parliament link will take you to http://www.lop.parl.gc.ca/Content/LOP/ResearchPublications/2016-06-e.html?cat=government

Ok, maybe now we have a briefing about online voting, providing evidence from various fields of expertise including computer science, and weighing risks and benefits.

Well no, we don’t.  Somehow you navigate your way through the table of contents or through the long text to section 6.2 Online Voting

Library of Parliament Online Voting

And if you make it there, you will get, not one page, not 9 pages, not 16 pages, but four paragraphs. With no computer science experts cited.  As I documented in June 2016 in my analysis Online voting section of Background Paper 2016-06-E on Electoral Systems.

I will again express my profound disappointment in the failure of the government to provide an adequate, evidence-based briefing to inform consideration of online voting, particularly given the fact that they had an opportunity to provide information to all Canadians.  And to emphasize my concerns that in addition we are also having a discussion about electronic voting with, extraordinarily, no information or context whatsoever (not even a definition of what electronic voting is, or what technologies we may be considering).

Hashtag for the MyDemocracy consultation isn’t clear.  Presumably #EngagedInER ?  The most common one being used at the moment is #MyDemocracy

For more information about the consideration of electronic voting technologies in polling places, please keep an eye on the future Chief Electoral Officer, Elections Canada, and discussions at PROC, as well as the Ministry of Democratic Institutions.

ERRE Electoral Reform Committee Recommends Against Online Voting

The Special Committee on Electoral Reform, otherwise known as ERRE, has released its report with recommendations. The recommendation on online voting is unambiguous:

Recommendation 4
The Committee recommends that online voting not be implemented at this time.

Recommandation 4
Le Comité recommande que le vote en ligne ne soit pas mis en oeuvre à l’heure actuelle.

The report is Strengthening Democracy In Canada: Principles, Process And Public Engagement For Electoral Reform or « Renforcer la démocratie au Canada : principes, processus et mobilisation citoyenne en vue d’une réforme électorale ».

The online voting section is Chapter 6: Online and Electronic Voting, pp. 109-116 in the English report, and Chapitre 6 : Le Vote En Ligne Et Le Vote Électronique 119-127 in the French text.

There are two “Supplemental Reports” at the end of the main report, one by the Liberals  pp. 321-328, and one by the NDP & Greens pp. 329-333.  Neither supplemental report dissents from the recommendation against online voting.

The report also categorizes (pp. 309-310) the 574 submitted briefs by whether they submitted arguments in favour of or against online voting.  They found 52 briefs were in favour, and 60 were against.  They make no analysis of the evidence presented by the individual briefs (and in fairness I haven’t had time to do so either myself).

In the report itself, the only brief that is cited is from Brian Lack of Simply Voting, who concluded that the “heightened threat level of a federal election pushed the security of Internet voting past its limit and poses too much of a risk”.404

404Brian Lack (Simply Voting), “Simply Voting Submission to the Special Committee on Electoral Reform,” Submitted Brief, 20 September 2016.

It probably isn’t wise for me to criticise a process that came to the desired conclusion, but there are substantial issues with the way evidence was gathered and how it is presented in the report.

First and foremost, for an issue that involves complex technical questions of computer security and the nature of computer programs, there was a single computer science expert in online voting called.  One witness out of 196 invited witnesses.  Now we can certainly debate what percentage of the witnesses should have been computer science experts – 5%? 10%?  But I think we can agree that 0.5% is not sufficient.  And it’s actually not even really 0.5%.  The social science expert and the voting technology company each got 10 minutes, in Ottawa, on video.  The computer science expert (Dr. Barbara Simons) got 5 minutes, in Vancouver, on audio only.  So more like 0.1% of the testimony was from a computer science expert in online voting.

It is great that Dr. Simons is extensively quoted in the online voting section, but if she had missed her plane that entire section might have been radically different.  More experts should have been called – I have a list over a dozen experts they could have contacted.

I am a bit disappointed to hear committee members say, as Chair Francis Scarpaleggia said in the National Press Theatre (CPAC video, December 1, 2016) that the committee heard “convincing testimony from experts” about online voting computer security.  You heard from expert in computer security.  You only invited one.

Secondly, there are those of us who put hours into gathering and carefully presenting the evidence in our briefs about online voting.  But it turns out that two minutes on open-mic might have been time better spent, as there are two open-mic presenters cited vs. only one brief.

Thirdly, there was no white paper, no discussion paper, no briefing prepared to guide discussion of online voting.  BC, New Brunswick, and Edmonton all had discussion papers for online voting.  Why didn’t the Government of Canada?  Such a discussion paper might have mentioned e.g. that Nova Scotia, Ontario, Quebec and BC have all rejected online voting at a provincial level, with Ontario’s conclusion coming after three years of investigation.  And it might have said that Toronto, Waterloo and Edmonton have also rejected online voting at a municipal level.  And that Australia, Norway and the UK have all rejected national online voting.  How are we supposed to have a meaningful conversation without any background information, without any context?

Fourthly, the report examines “and electronic voting” even though the mandate of the committee clearly states only “online voting”.  Do committee mandates not have any meaning?

In conclusion, I hope that the advice from the Committee about online voting will be accepted by the Minister, and I sincerely hope that it will be a long time before we consider online voting again.  Since the report is only advisory, I still urge you to contact the Minister directly to express your opinion about online voting.  I also hope the next time we consider Internet voting, we invite more than one computer science expert witness, and have an discussion document providing evidence from the computer science community.

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.