Wednesday, October 28, 2015

E-Voting denied in Switzerland over hacking fears

No one ever said that the path to progress was going to be easy, straightforward and without challenges, but that does not mean we should abandon any of the positive steps we have taken to move forward. One area where this has become increasingly pronounced is in the context of voting technology.

A very recent example of this comes from Switzerland, widely regarded as one of the safest and most affluent countries in the world. There, the government has decided to deny access to e-voting technology in nine cantons. The explanation provided is that an audit of the electronic voting system being put forth for the upcoming federal elections has unearthed a number of significant security flaws in regards to protecting voting secrecy.

The electronic voting system was developed by Unisys, a company based in the United States. “Some serious deficiencies were noted,” according to government spokesperson Andre Simonazzi. “Hackers would have been able to reveal the electors' vote, which is not tolerable in a democracy.”

Absolutely, it is of incredible importance that the confidentiality and privacy of the vote must be secured in any election, let alone one of this magnitude. However, such deficiencies should not deter governments like the Swiss to move backward in its progress toward greater and more widespread adoption of e-voting technology. With this move, over one-third of Switzerland's 26 cantons will be without access to the electronic voting system.

This follows a recent story involving Swiss expatriates who are calling for electronic technology for voting from abroad. Significant progress has been made in Switzerland and in other European countries, most notably in Estonia, a democracy that continues to serve as a positive model of how e-voting can be very successfully implemented.

A bigger part of the problem with this government question is that it may now cause citizens to question their confidence in the credibility and reliability of e-voting technology in general. The problem here comes specifically from the Unisys system and it should not reflect poorly on other systems developed by other vendors.

If anything, it further solidifies the proposition that such hacking fears, among other possible causes of concern, need to be suitably addressed by the careful selection of the most reputable vendors with proven track records. A robust series of audits – before, during and after an election is held – must also be put in place.

The decision to repeal the Unisys-developed electronic voting system may offer some positives to the Swiss people if the system is as “seriously flawed” as the government report indicates. However, it is important that the government follow up as soon as possible by pursuing another vendor and another solution in order to keep the momentum moving forward with e-voting rather than sliding back to more archaic and arguably even more flawed systems of voting.