Monday, October 20, 2014

Online voting needs to be an option in future elections

Democracy has taken on many different forms over the years and the exact mechanics utilized in capturing the will of the people have also adapted with the times. In the earlier days of democracy, votes were cast in a very public fashion, but the concept of the secret ballot has become a cornerstone of many modern democracies. Whereas people may have once selected to place a ball in one of two jars to signify which candidate they supported, the vote is now captured in a number of different ways.

The now traditional paper ballot allowed for some flexibility, as several candidates could be listed and it would be possible to get votes on multiple issues or elections at the same time. And while traditional paper ballots may continue to persist, a number of more modern technologies have really started to pick up in popularity. Direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting machines are increasingly widespread and, more recently, Internet-based voting has been used in many parts of the world.

It is true that Internet voting (sometimes called “i-voting” to differentiate from “e-voting” on voting terminals) has ran into trouble here and there. A recent article in The Mississauga News, by way of the Waterloo Region Record, has stated that online voting in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada is “worth the risks.” One of the primary reasons for promoting online voting raised in the article is that it may help to boost voter participation. Voter turnout rates have continued to drop in many countries and part of the explanation is that the tech-savvy generation of today have become disenchanted or disinterested in the electoral process.

It has become abundantly clear that young people can be very interested in human interest issues and in politics, as evidenced by the events in places like Hong Kong and Cairo, but they may not necessarily participate in politics in a more traditional manner. Online voting can help to make the electoral process both more accessible and more relevant to this demographic. The convenience of voting “from the comfort of your home” cannot be understated.

The issues surrounding the security and reliability of online voting have been a topic of hot debate. In the case of Cambridge, Ontario, Internet-based voting is still in testing phases. However, online voting is not new to Canada and it has been experimented with in the past and it continues to be explored across the country. 

The author of the article recognizes the risks of online voting, including the potential for hacking the system and for compromising the integrity of election results, but these can be substantially minimized with the right provider using the right software, under the right guidelines for a robust audit system throughout the election process. There are challenges to be faced in maintaining the privacy of the secret ballot and protecting the system against distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, but it needs to be recognized that traditional paper ballots also come with their own set of challenges and difficulties to overcome.

The goal, at least in the short term, is not for online voting to replace traditional ballots altogether. Instead, it is far better to combine the best elements of both systems in order to promote greater voter turnout while maintaining a high level of security, reliability and integrity. An online voting system can work in parallel with paper-based ballots or with direct-recording electronic voting machines situated in official voting places, as the former provides greater access to those with disabilities, those living in remote areas, or simply those who enjoy the comfort and convenience of voting anywhere they have an Internet connection.