Tag: Ontario

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.

comment on The Agenda – Is Online Voting the Future?

TVO – The Agenda – Is Online Voting the Future? – May 17, 2017

COMMENT

In future I hope that TVO will invite computer scientists who specialise in elections security when the topic is online voting.

There were a number of things we didn’t hear in the segment, such as the fact that Toronto, Kitchener and Waterloo have always rejected Internet voting, and that Guelph and Orillia just rejected online voting for the 2018 elections.

We also didn’t hear about the many Canadian expert consultations and reports about online voting, consultations where unlike municipal online voting decisions, there was more time to draw on a variety of election expertise.

In every such case, without exception, the recommendation is against online voting. This includes Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario, and British Columbia, as well as the federal government.

END COMMENT

Also see my longer email with links – email to TVO about online voting.

email to TVO about online voting

Here is an edited version of an email sent to TVO about their May 17, 2017 The Agenda segment on online voting.

EMAIL

I was pleased to see Steve Paikin ask a variety of questions about online voting, Internet security and electoral fraud in the May 17, 2017 The Agenda segment on the topic.

http://tvo.org/video/programs/the-agenda-with-steve-paikin/is-online-voting-the-future

There were many things we didn’t hear in the segment, such as the fact that Toronto, Kitchener and Waterloo have always rejected Internet voting, or that municipalities have to make the decision about online voting without any comprehensive background briefing about the computer security risks, or that Guelph and Orillia just rejected online voting for the 2018 elections.

We also didn’t hear about the many Canadian expert consultations and reports about online voting, consultations where unlike municipal online voting decisions, there was more time to draw on a variety of election expertise.  In every such case, without exception, the recommendation is against online voting.

This includes Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario, and British Columbia, as well as the federal government.
[added for the web: recommendations on Internet voting from government consultations]

In addition, Quebec has a total moratorium on all forms of electronic voting, including online voting.

As well there is the recent expert study of the PEI referendum, which also recommended against online voting.

Just to give you a flavour of these kinds of expert assessments, here’s what Toronto had to say in its analysis http://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2016/ex/bgrd/backgroundfile-98545.pdf

The overwhelming consensus among computer security experts is that Internet voting is fundamentally insecure and cannot be safely implemented because of security vulnerabilities inherent in the architecture and organization of both the Internet and commonly used software/hardware:

  • Internet voting is extremely vulnerable to a wide range of cyber-attacks, and many of these are impossible to detect.
  • Internet voting poses extraordinary and unnecessary risks to election integrity, and even a small issue—were it even detectable—could completely undermine public trust.
  • Every jurisdiction whose Internet voting system has been thoroughly examined by security experts—including the long-running system in Estonia—has revealed major vulnerabilities that could allow the system to be hacked, to reverse election outcomes, or to selectively disenfranchise voters, all while going completely undetected.
  • Many jurisdictions that ran Internet voting pilots—including Washington, DC, France, and Norway—cancelled the projects due to security issues.

Should you have a future segment about online voting, I urge you to include computer science expertise.  Here is a list of contact information for experts specifically in the risks of online voting, including Canadian experts such as Dr. Simons and Dr. Essex:

[embedded list replaced with web link: Internet voting and computer security expertise]

END EMAIL

Comments about Orillia Internet voting

The City of Orillia has invited comments about its proposal for Internet voting in the 2018 Ontario municipal election.

The website is City of Orillia Voting Method – Public Comments and the deadline is Monday May 1, 2017 at 10am Eastern.

They have included a link to their staff report: Clerk’s Department Report CD 17-08 – Alternative Voting Method Options (PDF).

Below is my submission.

COMMENT

Dear Mayor and Council (c/o Janet Nyhof, Deputy Clerk):

I am writing in response to the request for comments about the recommended City of Orillia voting method.

http://orillia.ca/en/news/index.aspx?feedId=6f58f980-7799-42a7-9149-7b35d865e9ee&newsId=c90efff1-5ce5-4d2e-9ee5-40b300572e08

I recommend against using Internet voting.

I have reviewed the Clerk’s Department Report CD-17-08 2018 Municipal Election – Voting Method Options.

http://icreate4.esolutionsgroup.ca/230002_iCreate_NewsModule//Management/Attachment/Download/2f0783f2-adf9-4b98-acc5-53b09cfff307

I have the following concerns with this report, which does not cite computer science and computer security evidence:

* it appears to minimize the disadvantages

* it selectively reports on municipal adoption of Internet voting

* it does not provide a comprehensive analysis of the system-wide security and error risks

I agree with the following conclusions of the report, which are well-supported by social science evidence:

* Internet voting will not increase turnout, nor will it change the voter profile

I have provided additional detail in an appendix below.

Thank you,

Richard Akerman

Appendix

I would like to examine the disadvantages cited in more detail:
*System may be perceived as vulnerable to hackers

All systems are vulnerable to hackers.  This is not perception, this is reality.  This is the nature of computers.  Microsoft, with huge resources, nevertheless releases patches every single month for critical errors (vulnerabilities) in Windows and associated Microsoft software.  The situation is so bad that the Economist magazine recently did a cover story proclaiming “Why computers will never be safe”.
http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21720279-incentives-software-firms-take-security-seriously-are-too-weak-how-manage

http://www.economist.com/news/science-and-technology/21720268-consequences-pile-up-things-are-starting-improve-computer-security

I want to emphasize that this is not just about e.g. foreign hackers attacking the voting server.  It’s about two significant issues: 1) all systems have errors (bugs), and require extensive examination in order to ensure that errors have been minimized 2) the entire voting system, which in the case of Internet voting means the voter’s personal home computer or computing device, must be secure in order for the vote to be secure

How many hundreds or thousands of insecure home computers might be involved with a municipal Internet vote?  We really have no way of knowing; it would require a survey of a representative sample of users.  The Internet voting vendors almost never mention this security aspect of the election.  We do know that very large numbers of computers are compromised worldwide, due to lack of technical expertise combined with challenges in downloading what may be very large patches, as well as due to older systems such as Windows XP no longer receiving security updates.

Just this month the US Department of Justice began dismantling a network (“botnet”) of compromised computers that numbered in the tens of thousands of machines.  That’s just one example, of many.

https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/justice-department-announces-actions-dismantle-kelihos-botnet-0

Canadian government and corporate computers are hacked all the time.  Even Loblaw PC Plus points were hacked.

https://www.thestar.com/business/2017/02/20/loblaw-resets-all-pc-plus-passwords-after-breach-steals-member-points.html

Of course, decisionmaking is always about balancing risks versus benefits.  I can tell you that when computer security experts examine online voting, they basically universally find that the risks are too high.  See for example Scientific American from February 2016

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/pogue-the-challenges-of-digital-voting/

and a consensus statement from US computer scientists advising against Internet voting

http://usacm.acm.org/evoting/category.cfm?cat=30&E-Voting – “At the present, paper-based systems provide the best available technology….”

* Voter authentication
* Unsupervised voting

The combination of unsupervised voting and the inability to conclusively authenticate individual voters raises a number of very significant democratic issues: 1) voter credentials can now be bought and sold 2) since voting is unsupervised, even legitimate voters can be coerced by their friends or family to vote a particular way

* Role of the candidates/scrutineers change

In fact, any meaningful role for candidates and scrutineers in examining the conduct of the election is gone.  Their scrutineer role hasn’t changed, it’s been eliminated.  The entire trust that used to be established by watching physical ballots being counted in public is replaced by a transfer of trust to the black box of a third-party, for-profit, Internet voting technology vendor.  There is nothing to examine, there is nothing to recount.  A vote count comes out of the computer that cannot be challenged or changed.

* a summary of other municipalities’ 2014 Voting Method and 2018 Proposed Voting Methods

Not cited in the list in the Orillia report are:

[Correction to email, should say] Not cited in the list in the Orillia report (or changed since the report was released) are:

* Kitchener – no Internet voting in 2014, no Internet voting in 2018

* Waterloo – no Internet voting in 2014, no Internet voting in 2018

* Guelph – advance Internet voting in 2014, no Internet voting in 2018 (following an extensive debate with over 200 submissions and over a dozen deputants)
* Toronto – no Internet voting in 2014, no Internet voting in 2018

* Ottawa – no Internet voting in 2014, no Internet voting in 2018

https://web-beta.archive.org/web/20140217203039/http://www.therecord.com/news-story/2617898-kitchener-rejects-internet-voting/

http://www.therecord.com/news-story/4236054-waterloo-rejects-online-voting-in-2014-municipal-election/

http://www.therecord.com/news-story/6980847-waterloo-council-rejects-internet-voting-for-2018/

https://www.guelphtoday.com/local-news/guelph-city-council-deletes-online-voting-for-2018-municipal-election-596779

https://www.thestar.com/news/city_hall/toronto2014election/2014/07/23/toronto_cancels_plan_to_allow_online_phone_voting_for_disabled_citizens_in_2014.html

http://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2016/ex/bgrd/backgroundfile-98545.pdf

Toronto’s report states, in part:

Internet Voting

Fundamentally, the Internet was designed to share information, not to secure it. Though an increasing amount of daily commercial life—from shopping to banking—has moved online, Internet voting poses security challenges that are unique and, in their current state, insurmountable.

The overwhelming consensus among computer security experts is that Internet voting is fundamentally insecure and cannot be safely implemented because of security vulnerabilities inherent in the architecture and organization of both the Internet and commonly used software/hardware:

  • *  Internet voting is extremely vulnerable to a wide range of cyber-attacks, and many of these are impossible to detect.
  • *  Internet voting poses extraordinary and unnecessary risks to election integrity, and even a small issue—were it even detectable—could completely undermine public trust.
Lastly, I will look at the security aspect of the Orillia report:
* The implementation of an electronic voting solution must ensure that the process is secure, provides confidentiality of the individual voter and provides accurate and reliable results.
The above statement is correct.  However, the report then fails to cover all aspects of “the process” including the home computer.  Securing a central server without securing all of the home computers that connect to it is like protecting a single big tree in a forest and declaring the forest is totally secure from damage, ignoring the fact that many of the smaller trees in the forest could be cut down.

Similarly, the ability to truly, provably separate the identity of an individual voter from the vote they cast is not possible with a computer-based systems.  Computers are designed to track changes made.  It is extraordinarily difficult to make a system that can simultaneously determine that an individual has permission to vote, while then not recording somewhere in the system which user cast which vote.  Lastly, accurate and reliable results require strong evidence.  The computer can’t be inspected in any meaningful way; it’s a black box.  The municipality is transferring the entire trust in the election from a process of open casting and counting of paper ballots to a closed system that exists entirely within the computer and is controlled entirely by the third-party voting technology vendor.

If Orillia nevertheless decides to proceed with Internet voting and is truly confident in the security of its system, I urge you in the spirit of open government to conduct an open, public test of the full online voting system well in advance of the election, with permission for anyone around the world to remotely examine the system in detail for security vulnerabilities and to publicly report their findings.  There is no security in obscurity.
ENDCOMMENT