‘E-voting’ is used to denote a voting process over internet or intranet. The process enables the voters to cast a secure and secret ballot on an online medium. The goal of any voting system should be to ensure free and fair elections, and enforce unequal access of an individual to the electoral process. The advent of e-voting as a voting method majorly overcomes the digital distances and gaps across regions and states, functioning as a supplement system to traditional paper based voting. For any kind of voting method it is pivotal to set constitutional and legal conditions for its operation. Apart from that, election procedures must be transparent, and subject to public scrutiny.
E-voting, in terms of generic requirements list must be considered institutionally equivalent to traditional voting system, and eligibility with regards to registration and verification, free in terms of uncoercibility, no propaganda on e-voting site, non-valid voting capability, equal in terms of equality of candidates, equality of voters, one voter- one vote, secret with respect to secrecy and balance security vs transparency, and democratic with regards to trust, transparency, verifiability, accountability, reliability, security and simplicity. E-voting as an election procedure requires an efficient and viable infrastructure e.g. public internet kiosks, internet voting in government offices, so that citizens are allowed to exercise their voting rights. It is equally necessary to make this infrastructure easily accessible to the voter and create awareness about operational nuances of such procedures.
Ideal requirements in E-Voting
The significance of generic requirements for e-voting could be highlighted in following ways:
1. Eligibility ensures that the voter is registered and meets the requirements of eligibility
2. Secure registration and authentication to ensure that the principle of universal suffrage is being respected and that the elections are not being rigged
3. Free elections requires that elections take place without any violence, coercion, rigging, pressure and manipulative interferences or other influences exercised either by the state or other agencies
4. Un-coercibility and prevention of vote buying can be ensured by developing publicly accessible infrastructure, controlled physical sites and designing e-voting such that no voter can prove he/she voted in a particular way.
5 Freedom of decision the e-voting procedure should make technically infeasible the advertisement of political parties/candidates on the e-voting website.
6. Free expression of preferences the e-voting procedure should make technically infeasible the advertisement of political parties/candidates on the e-voting website
7. Equality regarding the political parties, candidates who participate in the elections, and equality regarding the voting rights of each voter. Another element of equality among the parties to be elected is that the decision of the voter, as expressed through the online ballot, is transmitted and counted without changes or land interference.
8. Transparency ensures all parties have equal access to the elements of voting procedure, in order to establish its proper functioning.
8. Secrecy is the precondition of the voter’s free political decision. In democratic elections the link between the vote and the voter must be irreversible, in order to ensure that votes are cast freely.
E-Voting prone to manipulation?
The news of Russian hackers targeting the electoral systems of USA in 2016 presidential election alerted the states to bolster the defenses of their voting systems. The vulnerability of voter registration systems lies in the fact that many of them have a dilapidated technology– voter registration systems being decade old. It has been suggested in this analysis that hackers who gain access to them could erase voters’ entries or create fictitious ones and then mail in votes for fake personas. Other disadvantages of e-voting includes no one could control the voting process, prone to hackers’ attacks and data spoofing, DDOS (denial-of-service attack (DoS attack) is a cyber-attack in which the perpetrator seeks to make a machine or network resource unavailable to its intended users by temporarily or indefinitely disrupting services of a host connected to the Internet, technical failures such as in poor administration the data can be lost or damaged, system malfunction in terms of falsification and manipulation in counting of votes.
In terms of voter check in, the use of tablet like devices to verify voters becomes vulnerable on account of hackers being able to target the networks to gain access to poll books, either shutting them down or altering data that’s on them. They could also break into the systems of companies that develop software for the poll books and insert malicious code. The other dangers are like that of gerrymandering raising the question of political squabbling within the rules of American democracy. In order to lessen such instances, states are made aware of such threats and enforced to take steps like running vulnerability scans on software, and gain a security clearance from the federal government. Other steps taken in the direction are like recording votes on the piece of paper so that one could go back and tally the recorded response, good security practices developed for securing government and industry databases.
E-Voting secured with Blockchain?
Blockchain technology is a chain of blocks, virtual and united in one huge computer network. The technology is presented in the form of a distributed database, where all information is stored on independent computers within a single network rather than in a single server or what a layman would understand as centralized manner. The Blockchain is built on a consensus system, thus, in order to hack it hackers would have to try really hard to attack such a system, and to do that they will have to hack each computer on the network. Besides, the unauthorized access attempts are immediately tracked by the system and recorded to history. Estonia has been able to use the online voting secured with blockchain technology — the government of Estonia announced the use of blockchain secured integration into voting technology. Other countries deploying blockchain e-voting among the inner party levels include Denmark, Australia. The method provides for accessibility, speed of vote counting, elimination of geographical issues, associated with physical presence and increased turnout rates in all categories of the population.
While there has been criticism against blockchain for its ability to fix the hard parts of securing online elections. Some have pointed out that hackers might compromise voters’ devices or the servers that record votes and log them to the blockchain, they can still manipulate election outcomes. However, the viability and feasibility of voting procedures must be evaluated in terms of ideal criteria listed above in the article. It is important to remember that any kind of voting procedure is only to ensure that an accountable and transparent functioning of democracy.
This piece is written by Manisha Chachra. Manisha is Associate Researcher at Govern.