Newfoundland Select Committee on Democratic Reform

The Newfoundland and Labrador House of Assembly has had a Select Committee on Democratic Reform.

UPDATE 2022-05-23: The 49th General Assembly dissolved prior to the [2020] Committee’s deadline to report.  The Committee is now disbanded.  It is replaced to some extent by the 2021 All-Party Committee to Modernize the Elections Act.  For more information see Newfoundland 2021 All-Party Committee to Modernize the Elections Act.  END UPDATE

Continue reading “Newfoundland Select Committee on Democratic Reform”

Internet Voting Privacy and Security Risks report from OIPC Newfoundland

The Newfoundland and Labrador Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) has released a very clear report that explains the unique characteristics of the secret ballot and elections, and examines the risks that would be introduced by implementing Internet voting.

Internet Voting – Privacy and Security Risks (PDF)

It also asks a very fundamental question: what problem is Internet voting trying to solve?

In reviewing reports and public documentation from Canadian jurisdictions where internet voting has been implemented it appears that there has been little to no concerted effort on the part of governments, prior to implementing internet voting, to 1) identify the problem to be addressed and 2) understand what has caused the problem.

In the case of internet voting, it is not even clear that there is a problem [that is being solved]. If the problem can be framed as lack of participation in the democratic process, this is a much broader problem than the method of voting.

The report was authored by Sean Murray, Director of Research and Quality Assurance.

The report is particularly timely as Newfoundland and Labrador has established a Select Committee on Democratic Reform that is to review voting systems and methods.

For more on OIPC Newfoundland and Labrador, see:

Remote voting in the UK House of Lords

On June 10, 2020 the UK House of Lords posted Online voting to be introduced in House of Lords for the first time.

NOTE: This is a separate system from the UK House of Commons.  For information about that system see instead Remote voting in the UK House of Commons – Remote Divisions become reality.

House of Lords

There isn’t much technical detail in the post, it just says

Members of the House of Lords will soon be able to vote remotely for the first time when the House of Lords launches an online voting system. Members will be able to vote on a smartphone, laptop or other device.

The system is being developed by the UK Parliamentary Digital Service.

Hopefully a technical blog post will be available once it launches.

The House of Lords indicates that the first remote voting may take place as soon as June 15, 2020.

UPDATE 2020-06-15: The House of Lords is indeed voting remotely on June 15, 2020.

Online voting in #HouseofLords starts today.
Twitter – @UKHouseofLords

END UPDATE

Parlimentary Voting vs General Election Voting

As a reminder, Parliamentary votes are different from votes in a general election in at least three major ways:

  1. Votes can be coerced (in fact the role of the Whip is basically to enforce party direction on how to vote)
  2. Votes are not anonymous
  3. Votes are not secret

That being said, there are still lots of considerations for remote voting and technology voting, including concerns about the chain-of-custody, as multiple systems are most likely involved with the transmission and counting of the vote, concerns about auditability and concerns about security.

It’s because Parliamentary votes are public that it is possible to implement a remote voting system for the House of Lords.

Conversely, the anonymous secret ballot in a general election cannot be implemented using remote voting (online voting).  For a very clear explanation of the issues with online voting in the context of general elections, see Eric Geller’s Politico article Some [US] states have embraced online voting. It’s a huge risk.  For a more in-depth academic analysis, see the 2018 consensus report of the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM): Securing the Vote.

How to enact remote voting for the Canadian House of Commons

The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs (PROC) is meeting to study how to enact remote voting for the Canadian House of Commons.  Meetings can be viewed on video (ParlVU).

See List of Meetings below.

For details of the specific language of the request for the study, see later section Government Request.

With the disclaimer that I don’t read every single line of Hansard, I gather the Government’s request passed on May 26, 2020.

So the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, otherwise known as PROC, is charged to produce a report on enacting remote voting by June 23, 2020, which is very little time indeed to gather evidence and analyse it.

UPDATE 2020-06-18: PROC has requested that the deadline for the report be extended from June 23, 2020 to July 21, 2020.  END UPDATE

They have already produced a report recommending a “secure electronic voting system” by which they presumably mean Internet voting.  I examined some of the issues they will need to consider in detail in my previous blog post.

It’s not clear the extent to which they understand the amount of effort that will be needed, given the complexity of implementing a remote voting system with robust authentication in a Canadian context with the technology we actually have in place, as the discussion on the previous report included statements such as:

I think this section [on remote voting], given the recommendation, is really substantiated by the U.K. Parliament and how quickly it moved to implement an electronic remote voting procedure.

What’s interesting about the things that I think are really relevant is that Karen Bradley is quoted in that letter. I would recommend that this quote appear in our report. She said, “The Committee is satisfied with the assurances it has been given about the security of the system.”

Also, I did a bunch of Google searching—

The UK uses a completely different technology infrastructure than Canada, their Parliamentary votes are conducted differently, and they have a dedicated Parliamentary technology team, the Parliamentary Digital Service. The situations are not interchangeable.

As I’ve said in my previous post:

There really needs to be a separate, dedicated, technology-focused report just on electronic voting (Internet voting) for the House of Commons that gives more specific guidance including an assessment of risks and risk mitigations.

As I indicated in my post about the UK system, you have to consider a variety of complex issues when introducing a voting system.

Considerations for a voting system include the chain-of-custody, as multiple systems are most likely involved with the transmission and counting of the vote, concerns about auditability and concerns about security, as well as usability.

So it’s good that there will be a separate report, but there isn’t enough time to do much of an investigation.

At a minimum, PROC needs to consider:

  1. For every voting scenario, how remote voting would work, or if it would not be possible to replicate the attributes of the in-House voting scenario remotely.  (I link to all the different ways a vote can be conducted — Putting the Question as it is called — at the end of this post.)
  2. How to deal with authentication, to reduce the risk that someone other than the Member of Parliament is voting.
  3. Whether they want simultaneous voting, or traditional one-by-one voting.  One-by-one is highly preferable in terms of simplicity and ease of auditing and counting.
  4. How to make the system usable, including reducing the risk of Parliamentarians voting the opposite of the way they intend (it took all of a day for this to happen in the UK).  This can be done by avoiding most additional technology altogether, using the videoconference and having Parliamentarians raise their hands one-by-one to vote.
  5. If they decide they need a software system, considering how to implement the system using modern software development approaches, learning the lessons of previous failed IT systems.
  6. For voting beyond Putting the Question, how to handle other situations.  For example, the Speaker is elected by secret ballot.  This is not possible using online voting, because the anonymity of a secret ballot cannot be replicated online (this is why voting in a general election is not possible online).
  7. How to detect and deal with situations in which the Parliamentarian is voting under duress.

Hopefully their duress solution will be better than the April 2020 U.S. Senate staff report‘s idea:

Another option would be to provide senators with a code word that they could use to make clear to those in the chamber that they were voting under duress.

I would also note that that same staff report indicated:

that system will become a prime target for adversaries … wishing to disrupt the system to undermine confidence in the country’s institutions, or to alter the outcome of significant votes. Therefore, any system the Senate adopts must provide a level of security that would ensure confidence in the validity of senators’ identities and votes similar to that which exists on the Senate floor.

In conducting its analysis PROC will be continuing the Parliamentary Duties and the COVID-19 Pandemic work.

Keeping in mind that remote Parliamentary voting is not at all the same as voting in a general election, most notably because Parliamentary votes are public, with no anonymity and no secret ballot, here is information about Submitting a brief to a Committee:

Guide for submitting briefs to House of Commons Committees

The Clerk of PROC is Justin Vaive, and the email address is PROC@parl.gc.ca

Previous Posts

For more information see my previous posts:

List of Meetings

Government Request – How to Enact Remote Voting

As best I understand, the Government requested on May 25, 2020:

(f) the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs be instructed to review and make recommendations on how to modify the Standing Orders for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic as part of an incremental approach beginning with hybrid sittings of the House as outlined by the report provided to the committee by the Speaker on Monday, May 11, 2020, including how to enact remote voting, provided that (i) the provisions applying to committees enumerated in paragraph (e) shall also apply to the committee, (ii) the committee be instructed to present a report no later than Tuesday, June 23, 2020, (iii) any report which is adopted pursuant to this paragraph may be submitted electronically at any time with the Clerk of the House, and shall be deemed to have been duly presented to the House on that date, (iv) following the presentation of any report pursuant to this paragraph, the House leaders of all four recognized parties may indicate to the Speaker that there is an agreement among the parties to implement one or several of the recommendations of the committee and the Speaker shall give effect to that agreement;

Putting the Question

As one might expect, Bosc and Gagnon provides a detailed explanation of the voting process in the House.

Chapter 12 – The Process of Debate – Decisions of the House – Putting the Question

You can read all the details there, but I have to include the marvelous Figure 12.3 Putting the Question. Law as code, if you will.

Figure 12.3 Putting the Question
Image depicting, in a series of boxes linked by lines, the steps required for the House to make a decision on a question. It begins with debate concluding, followed by the Speaker putting the question, then listing options for voice votes or recorded divisions. If necessary, the Speaker casts a deciding vote. At the end, the Speaker declares that the motion has been adopted or rejected.

(Above section copied from previous blog post.)