[E-voting] E-voting machines to be used in UK

Louise Ferguson louise.ferguson at gmail.com
Mon Oct 23 11:44:26 IST 2006

On 18/10/06, Dr J Pelan <J.Pelan at gatsby.ucl.ac.uk> wrote:
> On Tue, 17 Oct 2006, Louise Ferguson wrote:
> > The UK govt has this afternoon issued a propectus for modernising pilots
> > for 2007 local elections, this time specifically focusing on kiosk,
> > internet and telephone channels, as well as e-counting.
> >
> > With what you said earlier, Colm, regarding what might be done in Eire,
> > I'm also wondering whether Eire and UK digital rights organisations can
> > in some way work together on this issue.
> Seeing as I live in London, I've been banging on about the UK side of
> things but it has fallen on deaf ears. Save for the usual suspects, e.g.
> Jason Kitcat, no one seems to care about the issue in the UK. It just
> isn't on anyone's radar.

Hi John

I've spent a few years 'banging on' about this myself. Organising meetings
between US experts and the Electoral Commission; banging on at London Elects
about electronic counting issues (and getting into their workshops to bang
on some more); banging on at ODPM over a period of time before
responsibilities transferred, and organising meetings with them; speaking at
Oxford Internet Institute on an international panel on e-voting (all the
others on the panel were in favour) and elsewhere (e.g. IPPR); liaising with
US colleagues such as Barbara Simons; speaking to Association of Electoral
Administrators meetings (e.g. to the London group) about these issues;
writing articles for people like Open Democracy; having endless discussions
with US colleagues, and with Jason Kitcat; and so on.

Even when I stressed the fact that the ODPM (as
> was) was driving the e-voting standards at the Council of Europe, no one
> seemed to believe the UK was considering a roll-out. Of course they are.

There has been that awareness for some time among quite a few of us. The
Commission's recommendation to postpone briefly on e-voting was based on
wishing to put together a more comprehesive framework to underly the
process, or so it argued in public. I don't think there's ever been any
doubt that matters would proceed one way or the other, knowing the mania for
the *modern* that hangs in the government air.

AFAIK, the digital rights groups are rather fragmented in the UK

Indeed they are. The point of ORG was that it was set up as an umbrella that
would work to fill the gaps in this fragmented panorama, and provide a
single point of 24/7 media contact, always working with existing groups.
Hence we work with an array of rights organisations, from mainstream and
well-known ones such as the National Consumer Council (on DRM) to niche
players such as No2ID (on ID cards), and are perhaps unique among digital
rights groups in the UK in having a paid staff.

This strategy has worked well. TV and mainstream press now relying on us to
find experts on a wide array of subjects that are related to the digital
arena, but that are not necessarily *about* technology (for example, our
current work on anti-copyright term extension for sound recordings - which
are now 99% digital - funded by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust), and we're
often asked to provide evidence to relevant enquiries. This after less than
a year of formal existence.

and some
> of them tend to be rather, let's say, founded on zealotry and sandals
> rather than well grounded in civil liberties and legal argument.

We have a legal advisory group including more than a dozen lawyers advising
us on particular issues/their own areas of expertise. Unlike our Irish
colleagues, ORG isn't a lawyer-based organisation, it's a grass roots one
with hundreds of paying supporters, but I think our legal resources can pass
muster on a range of subjects, and are growing by the month, and we also
have a terrific range of expertise on our Advisory Panel.

I'd suggest that zealotry has little to do with our approach. We believe
that existing rights in the non-digital world need to be conserved in a
digital one, and that the public need to be informed. Not exactly a radical

> just my opinion but I do not mind being proved wrong.
> However, I see the perpetual association of technical people and technical
> issues with e-voting as highly detrimental to the public debate.

It is - ill-informed - not-technical people that often make that association
(*this is a technical issue* or *the technologists will sort this out*). And
all too rarely, it's left to technical people to raise the non-tech issues
that lie at the heart of just about any implementation of technology,
whether lo-fi (paper systems) or hi-fi. Sad but true.

> is NOT about technicalities - it is about TRUST.

It's about humans and human behaviour. As an anthropologist of
technology-rich environments, who often gets called in when technology
ecosystems go wrong, I spend most of my working life firefighting situations
where exactly this mistake has been made.

I would therefore recommend that the traditional civil liberties (e.g.
> Liberty) and voting people (e.g. Make My Vote Count) should be persuaded
> to drive this with support from the digital-rights groups, rather than the
> other way around. The former groups need to be approached with a well
> prepared presentation on the risks *together* with the evidence that a
> roll-out is likely.

This is in principle a fine idea, and ORG is very happy to work with
traditional civil liberties groups (it does so  already). My own experience
is that traditional groups do not have the technical knowledge to fight
these battles, and actually look to small, underfunded specialist groups to
provide it/work with. (This understanding is based on discussions I've had
with researchers in some of these organisations following the APIG inquiry
into DRM.)  In the case of Liberty, I believe Shami Chakrabarti has over the
years expressed the view that she wishes to work with smaller organisations
with particular areas of expertise, but AFAIK this has not happened.

And, perversely, you do need some technical knowledge in order to fight this
one: only someone who understands how the internet works (as well as
something about human behaviour) will be able to demonstrate why remote
internet voting - last week once again proposed in the UK - is such a bad
idea. It is ignorance of technology that contributes to making e-voting look
like such a good idea (to government etc.). We see absurd faith placed in
tech-led *solutions* by non-technology minded politicians and civil
servants, a seemingly deliberate wish to discard the checks and balances
developed within the electoral ecosystem over more than 100 years of
electoral history, and a simplistic idea of what voting is. Voting starts
when you watch your parents vote, when you become eligible to vote etc. etc.
It incorporates secrecy of the vote combined with public scrutiny of
process; the ability to challenge individuals who attempt to vote; the right
not to have your vote cast by your brother/father/uncle (the social
engineering implications of internet voting are immense, much more so than
those of postal voting), and so many other things....... It's not about a
pencil tick in a paper box, or any other technology.

There also needs to be a considered response to the
> disability / access issues which tend to muddy the water.

Indeed there does.

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