Thursday, January 17, 2013

Internet Voting, Strike Two!

Image: India Times
In a previous post we mentioned how the alluring idea of Internet Voting was captivating audiences the world over. And no wonder why, the convenience of casting a vote from a personal computer, or a tablet, while seating in front of a TV and watching a sitcom, could hardly be debated. However, we also pointed that we are still have a ways to go until a secure, transparent, and accurate online voting solution hits the market. 

Two recent episodes involving notorious brands (TIME, OSCARS) and this novel technology, left clear evidence of its shortcomings, and serve to illustrate the forces preventing this widely popular idea, from spreading throughout the world.

The first one of these episodes, which we termed Strike One, occurred in December 2012 when the traditional Man of the Year award from TIME Magazine opened online voting to the general public through a website. Although the selection of the winner is not based on this online election, it is used to get a feel of what audiences are thinking. TIME executive editor Radhika Jones said "While we don't make our selection based on the poll results, it's always interesting to see where some of our preferred candidates end up". 

But theory only resembles reality in theory. The smart PR move was overshadowed by a group called 4Chan who hacked TIME's web site to rig the elections, and gave Kim Jong-Un Korean Leader the first prize as Person of the Year 2012. Much to the regret of the organizers, the experiment turned costly, at the very least from the PR perspective.   

This incident surfaces one of the most pressing concerns facing online voting, that is, security. As of now, there is no way to fully guarantee the integrity of the elections when the votes are cast through the Internet. 
Strike two is an on-going story involving the 85th Academy Award nominations for the 2013 Oscars. This year online voting was introduced as a means to facilitate the casting of the votes. To avoid security glitches like the ones TIME magazine suffered,  strict security measures were taken into account. However, in this case, if the developers of the voting platform succeeded keeping away hackers from intervening in the election, they also succeeded keeping the more than 5,700 members eligible to vote from casting their vote in a user-friendly fashion. 

Since voting began on December 17,  numerous complaints were made, forcing authorities to extend the voting deadlines until January 4th. According to a lengthy analysis by The Hollywood Reporter, the complex password system developed to avoid voter impersonation was proving cumbersome for most voters. Log in problems were not confined to those who stereotypically present problems  with computers as even the most tech savvy members of the Academy expressed discomfort with the new system. 

In our opinion, Internet voting will probably not see a strike three, and most likely will hit a home-run when it is mature enough, nonetheless, to avoid being called out, this at-bat needs to be delayed for a while.