Internet Voting

April 9th, 2012 at 9:21 am by David Farrar

Geoff Palmer at Stuff reports:

In 2010, Washington DC unveiled its state of the art internet-based electronic voting system.

To demonstrate it, it held a unique public trial: a mock school board election in which people were invited to test the new system and even, they challenged confidently, try to compromise its security. Within days of it going live, an unlisted election candidate – one Bender Bending Rodriguez, also known simply as Bender from the TV series Futurama – was the leading contender, with 100% of the vote.

Which will be used by some as a reason why there should be no Internet voting, but look at the details:

They found an unencrypted copy of every registered voter’s authentication code, and those, combined with the public key used to encrypt the ballots, allowed them to alter every vote already cast and replace any subsequent ones with fakes.

Having the authentication codes unencrypted is a pretty big security hole.

While they were about it, they blocked other attacks coming from New Jersey, India and China, and noticed that hackers from Iran were accessing part of the system via a default admin password (“admin”). 

And that is just incompetence.

There are risks with Internet voting, but they can be minimised and mitigated. You could have (for example) a paper copy print out at Election HQ of every vote cast over the Internet. You can have confirmation e-mails of votes. You can have random audits.

I’m not an advocate of only having Internet voting, but in an era of declining turnouts, having the option to vote over the Internet would help turn that around.

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29 Responses to “Internet Voting”

  1. tvb (4,234 comments) says:

    This is the future but physical voting should remain an option for people who do not have easy access to computers from home. And people should be able to internet vote from polling booths as well. I am sure all security issues can be worked out well in advance. A trial of 2 or 3 electorates could be arranged in time for the next election surely.

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  2. dog_eat_dog (757 comments) says:

    If Bender was standing in an election I would be surprised if he didn’t get 100% of the vote.

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  3. Barnsley Bill (982 comments) says:

    David, this will result in even more left wing voter fraud. Is that what you want? Blogging during a Nat govt getting a bit dull for you is it?
    Polling day, at a booth with photo I’d is the only way to stop labour cheating in Auckland

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  4. Sonny Blount (1,847 comments) says:

    Low voter turnout is good!

    Retain physical voting and move it to a weekday.

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  5. DylanReeve (179 comments) says:

    The problem is these systems are usually totally closed. Even the voting authorities aren’t allowed to audit the software. Yes that was a huge failure, but that’s not unlikely and hard to find and fix. The motivation to attack these systems is very high and any hole is likely to be found by those who want to exploit them and the manipulation won’t be as obvious.

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  6. TimG_Oz (922 comments) says:

    Not sure if anybody else remembers, but I am sure that in NZ’s 2008 general election you could vote early or cast special votes solely from the Internet, without needing to print or sign.

    Not available in 2011, unfortunately.

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  7. iMP (2,314 comments) says:

    The answer is to re-engage the public with politics, not fiddle with technology.
    People walking to a booth and physically marking a paper, is the best form of democracy
    and it should stay that way.

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  8. SalParadise (54 comments) says:

    Anything that increases voter turnout and in turn voter engagement has to be a good. Doesn’t sound like a very good trial however. I am not aware of voter fraud being a big problem in New Zealand.

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  9. Anthony (784 comments) says:

    Most of us do internet banking no problem – why is something much less complicated like voting such a concern?

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  10. East Wellington Superhero (1,151 comments) says:

    Democracy is not about electing the perfect government, it’s about having a lever to get rid of bad governments.

    My local polling both is less than 100m from my bedroom. In New Zealand (with the exception of rural addresses) most polling booths are close to where people live. They’re probably closer than the local coffee, liquor, or cigarette retailer.

    Further to that, I’d guess that for half the times i’ve voted I’ve been out of my electorate and it’s been easy. New Zealand is an easy place to cast your vote.

    If people are to useless to travel for 5min and then stand in line for 5min to vote, then that’s their problem, not the electoral commission’s.

    The founders of this country and our soldiers that have defend it, would vomit if they saw how people treat voting these days. And how liberals wring their hands about the issue.

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  11. tvb (4,234 comments) says:

    This will bring down the costs of elections significantly as we would have substantially less polling booths. Results would be more accurate and much much faster. On a similar topic surely the 5 yearly census could be handled the same way. And why do we need to sample EVERYBODY surely 1000 per electorate is enough. That would bring down the cost of that as well. But perhaps a 100% census every 10 years and a sample census with computers every 5 years. Just wanting to save some money.

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  12. Will de Cleene (485 comments) says:

    having the option to vote over the Internet would help turn that around.

    Any evidence to back up this claim?

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  13. East Wellington Superhero (1,151 comments) says:

    What disturbs me is that after centuries of Western politics being framed by limiting the government’s power, we now risk handing it back. Hundreds of polling booths manned by 1000s of EC staff and political party observers stops fraud – and it leaves a massive paper trail. Using a flash computer is just an illusion of progress and efficiency but could actually be a retrograde step.

    Some people have no qualms about electoral fraud – and many otherwise good people might be able to justify screwing the scrum at times of crisis (say if there is war or a dire economic situation in the next 50 years) for ‘the greater good’.

    I do not support going online for voting.

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  14. dion (95 comments) says:

    I’d support it for things like council elections (where the turnout is appalling and the outcome doesn’t change anything anyway) – but in my opinion for general elections it’s not worth the risk.

    Elections are a very serious business – and as you’ve seen in the US case the damage from any compromise of the system could be catastrophic. Remember that it’s not just broken-arsed lefties like who have reason to try manipulating a general election – we’ll have nation states to contend with as well. Some of whom will have vast resources in this area.

    Some people need to get it through their heads that the Internet cannot solve everything. Buying books: Yes. Drunk, incoherent Facebook updates: Yes. Making fun of Trevor Mallard: Yes. “Lol Cats and Fail Dogs”: So I’ve heard.

    Voting – No. It’s not worth the risk.

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  15. Sonny Blount (1,847 comments) says:

    SalParadise (6) Says:
    April 9th, 2012 at 10:33 am
    Anything that increases voter turnout and in turn voter engagement has to be a good. Doesn’t sound like a very good trial however. I am not aware of voter fraud being a big problem in New Zealand.

    Anything? No way.

    More informed and engaged people voting is good.

    Increased voter turnout is bad.

    There has been significant voter fraud perpetrated in NZ by the Labour party over the last 3 elections. The fact that NZer’s haven’t been particularly up in arms about it is especially galling.

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  16. Graeme Edgeler (3,274 comments) says:

    in an era of declining turnouts, having the option to vote over the Internet would help turn that around.

    I’ll wait on the proof.

    EDIT: Will +1

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  17. marcw (237 comments) says:

    When I first read that article I also thought that it was apparent that whoever was responsible seemed incompetent. Almost like it was set up to fail – which it subsequently did!

    Default passwords, unencrypted data etc. – schoolchildren would do better.

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  18. Fentex (899 comments) says:

    but look at the details

    Why not just look at the results and not try to pretend that mistakes this time wouldn’t be made next time? They were and will be again. The mistakes made may not be so obvious next time but then neither will their exploitation be as obvious.

    This was a test that invited attack and the result was proof the idea just does not work.

    There’s nothing wrong with how votes are collected in New Zealand – they give trustworthy quickly counted results with no hardships.

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  19. Viking2 (11,223 comments) says:

    Interent voting would allow a longer vote epriod and with the movement to onbline and mobile happening so rapidly is an obvious option. If the banks can be secure then so can voting.
    Good Article in the Herald today about the move to mobile banking especially oversea’s which we will rapidly follow.
    We can’t fight it and if done properly the costs will go way down.

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  20. Viking2 (11,223 comments) says:

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/industries/6711105/Banking-faces-its-digital-revolution

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  21. Rick Rowling (823 comments) says:

    And when we have Internet voting, which party will have hundreds of volunteers going house to house “hi have you voted yet? No? Here, show me your login details and we can do it together on my laptop”?

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  22. mikenmild (11,233 comments) says:

    Which party won’t do that, did you mean?

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  23. Steve (4,517 comments) says:

    How about a trial in Hutt South for the next election?
    User name ‘admin’ Password ‘trev’ But you can not change the password, only Trev can
    As campaign manager he has the ‘key’ to the seat

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  24. P (1 comment) says:

    A lot of users are noobs. No internet voting….

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  25. Alan Wilkinson (1,839 comments) says:

    If computer voting is ever introduced then it should be an open source system with public access to the database and audit files for verification but voter identification protected. It should be possible for every voter to check their own vote also.

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  26. louie (90 comments) says:

    With internet voting there *will* inevitably be a fraud or hack detected somewhere in the world and as a result confidence destroyed elsewhere. We don’t need to generate more cynicism in the system of government or voting process. I can’t believe anyone thinks it is a good idea. ‘Efficiency’ and increased voter turnout should not be reasons to consider it.

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  27. Rick Rowling (823 comments) says:

    P(1) … noobs …

    I see what you did there!

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  28. Rick Rowling (823 comments) says:

    And when we have Internet voting, which party will have hundreds of volunteers IN SOUTH AUCKLAND going house to house “hi have you voted yet? No? Here, show me your login details and we can do it together on my laptop”?

    /now clarified form mike.

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  29. Hair Removal Specialist (79 comments) says:

    I can see how it would work:

    For Party Vote
    Text 1001 to vote for National
    Text 1002 to vote for Labour
    Text 1003 to vote for New Zealand First

    For Auckland Central
    Text 2101 to Vote for Joe Bloggs (National candidate)
    Text 2102 to Vote for Mary Poppins (Labour candidate)

    Just like American Idol but without any singing or dancing or J-Lo.

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