Internet voting: not here, not yet

Internet voting: not here, not yet

There are a few dog-whistle issues bubbling in October’s municipal election. One that doesn’t want to go away is on-line Internet voting. This is something that was tested during advance voting in the 2014 election and then rejected in a city council meeting in 2017.

Mayor Cam Guthrie’s re-election platform contains a pledge to bring back internet voting for the 2022 election. What he fails to say is that all by himself he does not have the power or the authority to do this. It was a council decision to stay away from on-line voting until it is proven secure. It has to be a council decision to reinstate it.

This could have something to do with the slate he and his supporters have cobbled together. The only way Guthrie can bring back Internet voting is to help enough councillors who will vote with him when the issue gets to another council meeting. The way for him to do this is to go door to door with them and spread the Gospel of Guthrie: “If you like me, you’ll like this fine ward candidate as well, so please vote for both of us.”

Seven city councillors, not all like-minded individuals, voted against Internet voting a year and a half ago for very good reasons. Chief among these is that it is not secure. There is no protection against hacking. There have been numerous studies of this subject in Canadian and American jurisdictions. They all show that it is the most vulnerable voting system yet devised.

A Swiss study published in 2015 tiled Who Are the Internet Voters? looked at Internet voting in several European countries. It found that the people who cast votes electronically are the same people who participate in elections anyway. It does not bring significantly more people to the ballot box.

Another 2016 study is by Aleksander Essex, a University of Western Ontario professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering. He concludes that “Internet voting only be adopted after the numerous technical threats outlined above can be suitably mitigated, and strong mechanisms put in place to prevent undetected changes. The entire system must be reliable and verifiable in a way that is convincing to the voting public.”

These assurances are not in place yet. There are no good reasons for Guelph to rush out and pioneer a new voting system that is clearly not ready. I don’t know anyone who is so myopic that they would say no, not ever. What prudent people will say is not here, not yet. The time will come, but we do not need to get ahead of the curve on this.

There is another consideration that needs to be looked at as well as studies specific to voting. A CBC news report on September 25 describes the RCMP’s difficulty in keeping up with increasing criminal activity on the Internet. A lot of it involves privacy issues and the security of encryption software. The bad guys are always able to stay a step or two ahead of the people chasing them.

Unscrupulous individuals will be just as quick to manipulate election voting numbers as anything else. If they can change financial records, they can change voting records.

It is foolish for Mayor Guthrie and his supporters to promise Internet voting by 2022. What we need is a promise to keep looking into it and for city council to make an informed vote on it as soon as conditions are ready.

2 Comments

  1. The only thing I take slight issue with here is the implication that “conditions will be ready” to green light internet voting at some point. Paint me skeptical, but I highly doubt it. You make the point yourself that the unscrupulous are always 2 steps ahead.

    The evidence against taking the risk is overwhelming. And it’s not like we don’t know how to execute thorough and safe elections without the internet.

    1. Author

      I highly doubt it as well, Tom. I’m a never say never person. We should also be clear that the security of Internet voting isn’t the only condition. The Swiss study I found says Internet voting only makes it easier for people who would go out and vote anyway. The best way to motivate new voters is for the politicians to give us good reasons to do it.

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