[E-voting] UK shelves plans for e-voting trials

Brian O'Byrne bobyrne at statesoft.ie
Fri Sep 9 11:58:04 IST 2005


Thanks for the clarification below.

On Friday 09 September 2005 07:45, Craig Burton wrote:
> Brian,
> My point is that some form of remote voting must be provided :
> whether it improves turnout or not is irrelevant.

Unfortunately, I find my self disagreeing with you on the very first 
line. Remote voting is a way of making it easier for people to vote, 
and making it easier for people to vote is a Good Thing, but it does 
not in itself serve the goal of an election.

The goal of the election is to get an accurate picture of the wishes 
of the electorate.

In bullet points:
- Making it easier to vote does not in itself serve the goal of an 
- Facilitating increased fraud or error does not serve the goal of an 
- Increasing turnout does serve the goal of an election, in so far the 
extra votes give a better picture of the wishes of the electorate.

So your assertions that remote voting must be provided and that 
improving turnout is irrelevant simply don't stack up against the 
goal of an election.

Whether it is worth increasing turnout through making it easier to 
vote even at the cost of reducing the accuracy of the vote is the 
question I'd like to put to a statistician.

I think Ita Ryan made some good suggestions about increasing turnout 
by encouraging voters, and those suggestions would seem to improve 
the accuracy of the election as a whole without reducing the 
integrity of the voting channel.

> Allowing REV submission of more than one vote (last vote counts)
> weakens coercion and selling.  A biometric of some sort would also
> make it hard for me to sell my "REV PIN" for someone else to use.


Your suggestions on mitigating the problems I mentioned are good, and 
would go some way towards solving some of the problems with DRE.

However very fundamental problems remain that simply cannot be 
resolved using any of the techniques you have mentioned, or any 
technique I have heard.

Two examples:
- The voting machine user interface and recording mechanism are 
independent. It is possible for a computer program to display one 
thing to the voter while recording another thing in their name. Since 
the ballot is secret the voter cannot later ask the computer what was 
recorded in his name (you cannot provide an evidentiary receipt that 
shows the vote without breaking secrecy).
This problem goes away if and only if you fully trust the program that 
is running on the voting machine. Unfortunately there is no test you 
can perform while voting that will give you that trust.
This problem can go all the way down to the operating system. A 
rootkit (a piece of software designed to deceive the rightful owner 
of a computer) can be installed that will thwart even sophisticted 
technical analysis by presenting something on screen that is 
different to the reality of what is stored on the computer.

- The vote record and the count program are independent. It is 
possible for the count program to appear to read the votes, count 
them and produce a result when in fact it is producing a result from 
some other means.
This could be mitigated by having several different count systems 
running independently. Unfortunately you cannot publish the full vote 
list publicly for such independent counting because it would be 
possible to identify individual votes in the list, again breaking 

The worst thing about these to problems is not that they are possible, 
but that they are undetectable and unquantifiable. If you could come 
up with a proof that these problems could affect no more than x% of 
the vote then we could bring the technology back into the picture and 
compare it with the accuracy of other technologies. Maybe it would be 
worth accepting reduced accuracy if it gives increased turnout.

But until these problems can be either provably eliminated, or at 
least quantified, then the technology is simply not acceptable.

Brian O'Byrne, Statesoft Ltd.
Tel: +353 1 4100 993, +353 86 240 4719

More information about the E-voting mailing list