Monday, December 1, 2014

Are biometrics the future of e-voting security?

Combating electoral fraud will always be a major priority for any given election, as the electorate must have confidence in the integrity of the election and respect the election results. Each voter needs to be properly and suitably identified, just as each ballot should be adequately and reliably verified. 

The traditional method of voter registration and voter identification typically came in the form of government-issued picture ID, as would be the case with a driver's license, but these cards can be forged and the electoral roll (sometimes called the electoral register or voter registry) can also be manipulated. Technology can play a critical role in improving both the convenience and the security of running and election, but as Joseph Hall from the Center for Democracy and Technology points out, an “uncontrolled platform” for online voting represents too much of a vulnerability. To mitigate and to overcome these problems, biometrics can be a very viable solution.

The implementation of a strong biometric-based voter identification system can address many of the common concerns and issues raised with electronic voting and with fighting electoral fraud now and into the future. The so-called “zombie vote,” where someone attempts to cast a ballot in the name of a deceased person who is mistakenly still included in the electoral register, can be eliminated, because biometric identification would be required. This is most commonly your fingerprints, but additional technologies like an iris scanner, or finger geometry recognition could also be considered.

The use of biometric technology in the context of a major election is not new, but it is still in its developing stages. It has already been used successfully to identify and authenticate every voter in the 2012 presidential elections in Venezuela and there are plans in place to adopt a biometric voter identification system in the 2015 Tanzanian national elections. This adds a much needed layer of security and accountability, as every voter is stringently identified. 

Experts have also recommended the adoption of two-factor authentication to further bolster the verification process. Voters would be identified by fingerprint or other biometric-based methods, in addition to a government-issued smart ID card or something similar. The concept of two-factor authentication is also not completely novel, as it is already available on a variety of online services like Google and Dropbox. The new Apple Pay system also uses the Touch ID fingerprint reader on newer iPhone devices to authenticate the user and to authorize the transaction. 

Indeed, looking ahead to the future, many of the technologies already in use with consumer and business space can be adapted for major elections. In the times to come, voters may identify themselves with a fingerprint scanner, a smart ID card, and by tapping their NFC-enabled smartphones on a reader at the official polling station before being granted access to a direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting machine.

Technology is very much at the core of our modern existence and it infiltrates every aspect of daily life, from online socialization to online banking, secure mobile payments to the submission and processing of confidential government forms. There are technological hurdles to overcome with biometrics in the context of elections, but these are the hurdles that need to be suitably addressed in order for elections to move forward into the future.