[E-voting] Abstention - an accuracy issue?

Adrian Colley aecolley at spamcop.net
Fri Mar 19 12:42:13 GMT 2004

On Fri, Mar 19, 2004 at 10:31:59AM -0000, Casey, Dermot (GE Consumer Finance) wrote:
> If you want to abstain then don't bother going to the polling station.
> <begin short rant>
> We live in a participative democracy and its your responsibility you
> participate. You have no right to spoil your vote. [...]

While I generally agree with Dermot on this one, the matter of
abstention is relevant to our submission for these reasons:

1. If you are being intimidated by a family member/employer/landlord/
   mobster into voting a certain way, it certainly _will_ make a
   difference if you don't cast a vote at all.

2. Fear of intimidation is the one and only reason for having a secret
   ballot.  When we didn't have a secret ballot, we had intimidation.

3. Either it's reasonable to abstain from a vote or it isn't.  Whatever
   the choice, it should apply to national elections just as it applies
   to local authorities, company boards, the UN Security Council, and
   every other voting structure.  All other voting structures tolerate
   abstaining; why not national elections too?  We haven't made a
   national decision to make voting compulsory (yet).  Therefore it
   is (as yet) reasonable to abstain in a national election.

4. From #2 and #3, if it's reasonable to abstain, then it must be
   possible to secretly abstain.

5. The practical choice facing a voter who wants to abstain but who is
   being intimidated into voting a certain way is whether to cast an
   vote that affects the outcome in a way he/she doesn't want, or to
   risk being seen cancelling the vote and enraging the intimidator.

In other words, the proposed system runs the risk of violating the
Constitution by failing to protect secrecy in the case of abstaining
voters.  If (I say again, IF) there is a constitutional right to
abstain, then the machines simply violate that right.  We don't say that
there is such a right; but we demonstrate that a reasonable argument in
its favour can be made.  The implication is that the High Court may one
day accept such an argument, and the consequences would include
prohibiting use of the system and perhaps rerunning an election.

I don't think we're going to reach a consensus on the whole
abstain/spoil/none-of-the-above issue, but we can still point out the
effects that the issue has on the secrecy of the proposed system.


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