E-mail voting in elections – an overview.
1) Deficiencies in the current voting system
a) Participation rates are low and falling
b) Election procedure is time consuming
c) Expensive for the state
d) Very infrequent, and only major issues can be put on a national election
e) Availability of current, comprehensive and unbiased information before elections is often problematic
a) Voting system is extended to use email and web along side normal paper based system. There will a central server for the whole nation, where people submit their votes and get the ballot papers from.
b) Results will be quicker to process. They arrive an real time as people make the decision, can be shown e.g. on TV immediately as they are already in electronic format (no counting needed).
c) Security equivalent to paper booth and mail based voting systems will be guaranteed mathematically. See last section for web references. Electronic banking through Internet is now commonplace and provided by all high-street banks.
d) Participation will be increased, as the procedure is much quicker.
e) Voting frequency can be increased if wanted. A random sample can be selected (e.g. 10% of population) to vote more frequently on important issues. A similar system exists in Switzerland.
f) International publicity to New Labour for being flexible and modern government. There will be reproduction of this system.
g) Access to people with no computing experience can be made faster. Existing booths can be modified to allow people to use a touch-sensitive computer screen instead of paper. It will remain as simple as paper, but results are updated immediately.
h) Extensive electoral information and reference will be provided by private web-pages that are easy and quick to access while election decisions are made.
i) Increased New Labour popularity. The profile of the person who would use a computer and did not vote in the last election could be measured. It is unlikely going to be an ageing upper class Conservative supporter.
3) Criticisms that are not true
a) Complex management – is a lot simpler than electronic banking
b) Little security – systems are designed on the booth basis. Although it is conceivable that a booth can be compromised, the central server is guarded and only allows input from booths that were verified to be safe. Individuals will be assigned a key-pair with pass-phrases (PGP and RSA). The central server will be able to decode the responses after a small delay even when the pair is lost (the data will not have to be kept secret after the election). Current algorithms are publicly available, have been exported from the USA on paper and thus are legal in the UK. Checks can be done by verifying a random sample of email voters.
c) Complexity – the software is all there to guarantee the security of the email. A system called PGP has been existing for more than a decade now, which facilitates key-pair management. Similarly, large SQL databases and email-list management software has been around and in finance deals with data sets a lot larger than 50 million people. Similarly, the most popular web pages now attract in excess of a million visitors per day. Thus, we are dealing with existing technology. Furthermore, once created the system is very easy to copy.
d) Takes long to implement. Building a complete Internet banking for a major retail bank takes half a year. This system is much simpler.
e) Failure is costly – very easy to implement alongside existing system, a pilot project will not be expensive and can be tested in a small part of Britain.
4) Criticisms that are true
a) Public perception of complexity before the event. However, this perception will have vanished in three years when everyone has typed his or her credit card details into the Web at least once.
b) Costs of system. The costs of creating the system should be less than running two elections on paper in a row. They can be recouped from licensing the technology to other countries, and TV rights to real time election data. One booth consists of a computer (200 pounds), a backup computer (200), 10 touch sensitive screens (1000), network connection over the phone lines with a backup with mobile network (200), software, maintenance and error correction (50 – the cost of central software is spread among many stations). Altogether 1500 pounds. If there is a station per 1000 people, the costs of the system are 75 million pounds. No extra cost arises from the emails that private individuals must receive and then send back. The marginal cost to a citizen from an extra email is negligible.
c) Changes the voting outcomes and increases electoral volatility. They should move to the advantage of New Labour. Surely, artificially reducing volatility by making the voting behaviour complex is not a democratic behaviour.
5) Further comments
a) Whenever the idea is presented, credit should be given to Keith Siilats. The author has some experience in economics, has launched an Internet company, worked as an IT manager and in an investment bank. www.ieg.ee/keith/english for more info.
b) www.pgpi.com for a free program implementing secure email
c) SSL is the name of secure web technology. Again, it is available for free.
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This sentence can be verified by downloading the software from
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Version: PGPfreeware 6.0 for non-commercial use <http://www.pgp.com>
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