Wednesday, September 10, 2014

E-voting in Australia could use myGov for voter verification

In most parts of the world where elections still rely on traditional paper ballots submitted at official polling stations, the volunteers and election staff on hand are tasked with the responsibility of verifying the identities of voters and comparing them with the list of registered voters. In most cases, a simple driver's license or some other form of government-issued photo identification will suffice. Other places may ask for a piece of mail with the voter's home address. Depending on the jurisdiction, the rules may be more strict or more lax.

When direct recording electronic voting machines are introduced at official polling sites, there are still staff on hand who check the identity of voters before directing them to the appropriate machine. The machines themselves may or may not have voter verification technologies in place, like scanning a government-issued identification card. What happens, then, when the vote is taken online?

This is the question being raised ahead of the 2016 federal election in Australia and the current proposal is calling for integration with the existing myGov account system. The Australian Department of Communications is looking for an e-voting trial for the upcoming election, following the success of smaller trials in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and New South Wales. Extending this trial on a national scale introduces additional challenges, but the existing infrastructure of the myGov government log-in system could work.

The myGov system is meant to provide Australians with a simple way to access government services, using “one login, one password [and] one destination.” Member services already utilizing the myGov system include Medicare, Child Support, and Centrelink, the last of which handles a range of government payments.  Department of Communications deputy secretary Abul Rizvi says myGov “may provide an ideal vehicle to trial e-voting at the federal level.”

However, it has been met with skepticism and critics due to vulnerabilities that were discovered in the website. It is important that the Australian government address these concerns over security and confidentiality ahead of the 2016 e-voting election trial. In many parts of the world that are experimenting with or have already implemented e-voting technology on a widespread scale, biometric authentication of voters can be very useful.

To accurately identify voters, electoral agencies can utilize biometric data that is unique to each individual, including 10 fingerprints and iris scans, as well as photo identification, signatures and secure passwords. Biometric technology can protect against election fraud, as in the case in Tanzania ahead of its 2015 national elections.

One of the reasons why Estonia continues to be a world leader in online voting technology is that all citizens have mandatory identification that includes biometric data. The myGov system in Australia could serve as a similar platform as it continues to grow and mature. Rizvi feels that Internet voting is the “inevitable long term outcome” for electronic voting and having the pieces in place ahead of time can prepare the country and its citizens for this reality.

In the meantime, as voters still submit their ballots in a physical voting place, electronic voting devices could provide a reliable bridge between the two technologies. Indeed, Rizvi states that voters may be able to bring their own device—like a smartphone or tablet—to the voting place and connect to the local system to cast a vote. This reduces cost for the electoral system and allows for experimentation with myGov-based Internet voting in a closed and secure network.