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Internet voting and turnout

Via Election Updates, comes this story out of Virginia,

Many county and state election officials often lament of low voter turnout, but Surry County, Va. is anticipating 100 percent voter turnout for an upcoming Republican Primary — or a zero percent turnout. A quirk in redistricting means that the county will have to open a polling place for one voter for the upcoming primary. It will cost the county approximately $2,000 to open the polling place for the day and even if the lone voter shows up in the early moments of election day, the county must keep the location open till polls officially close across the state. Registrar Lucille Epps said she contacted the Virginia Board of Elections to ask if the lone voter could be sent to the next closest precinct but was told that was not possible.

Paul Gronke astutely adds:

This is a fun and silly story that Mindy Moretti dug up, but there is a very good reason beyond cost that the voter should be sent to another precinct–privacy!  Obviously, Registrar Epps can not report returns for this precinct, but notice that the Registrar CAN’T REPORT PRECINCT LEVEL RETURNS FOR THE OTHER PRECINCTS EITHER, because a simple calculation will reveal the single voter’s choices.

Norwegian Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development

This is a good point, and I wonder about it in a few other contexts.  In Norway, for example, the country will be piloting an internet voting system for ten municipalities in their upcoming September local elections.   If internet turnout matches that of Estonia’s first trial with i-voting, i-voters would be somewhere around 2 percent.   Combine that with the low number of people per municipality, and the low number who vote in local elections, and it’s somewhat possible that you could have an extremely small number of internet voters per area.  Maintaining transparency requires the government to post who voted via each method (paper ballot, early voting, internet) as well as the results for each method, so there could be a theoretical risk of being able to identify internet voters’ decisions.  In most cases this isn’t that big of a risk, but it’s just a reminder of the many things that have to be considered when developing such a complex system.

Norway Blogging

Blogging has been light lately due to some travel.  I’m in Norway right now, where I came to meet with a team that will be evaluating the country’s internet voting project. In September, ten municipalities will be piloting an option where voters can cast ballots through the internet. (Twenty municipalities are also piloting allowing anyone over 16 years old to vote). There’s a lot to be said about internet voting and I won’t get into that now, but I will say that voting over the internet creates a number of challenges for maintaining such standards as a secret ballot and auditablity. With that being said, the Norwegian plan to accommodate these standards is very complex (too much so to explain here) but also well-thought out.

As far as random Norway facts go, I though I would share the following one about the Norwegian parliament. Seating arrangements in Parliament are made by constituency, not party affiliation like in most chambers. I’m guessing this was designed to promote inter-party cooperation but I doubt, given the little floor time of Norwegian MPs, it makes much difference.

Seat in Parliament (Photo property of David Jandura)

Egypt will not use automated voting system for next election

Egypt's Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, which is apparently in Smart Village, a PPP town on the outskirts of Cairo.

Al Ahram is now reporting that Egypt will not use an electronic voting system for the upcoming elections.

Egypt’s Minister of Communications and Information Technology Maged Othman announced in a press conference today that Egypt will not use electronic voting in the next presidential election.

Othman said electronic voting is currently too costly and requires extensive preparation to ensure the voting process is transparent and everyone is able to vote.

Othman also said Egypt will begin manufacturing the machines needed for electronic voting instead of importing them from overseas.

He added that currently the ministry is preparing the voting lists for the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections. The minister also said that Egyptians will be able to vote using their national ID cards both in Egypt and overseas and that Egyptian embassies will oversee the voting process outside of Egypt.

This seems like pretty good news all around.  The ability for expats to vote, in particular is more than feasible and there was no great reason not to do it. I previously expressed my doubts about an electronic election process, but that was mainly when I was unsure of whether internet voting was a potential.   I think Egypt is more than capable of a well-done automated election, but it takes time – more than a few months – to choose a system, ensure it works, train poll workers how to use, etc.

I’ve stated before that the debate over the merits of election technology is largely unimportant. Technology is a tool, not an independent actor. In most cases it amplifies intent; both deficiencies and capabilities become more apparent.  Whether Egypt ultimately decides to use automated machines or paper ballots is less important than how they decide to structure their Election Management Body, and how well they administer their elections.

Egyptian government to introduce e-voting system, ensure future allegations of fraud

I’ve previously praised Estonia’s internet voting system, not so much for the concept (unnecessary) , but their execution.  Internet voting is fraught with challenges and Estonia has done an admirable job of creating a system that addresses them.   But it’s not easy to administer an e-voting system; Estonia had to rewrite laws and spend considerable effort to make theirs work.  So I got a little scared today when I read that Egypt was planning on introducing an electronic voting system for their upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections.

Electronic voting can mean both internet voting, or simply automated machines; it’s not clear what they are referring to here.  The mention of Egyptians overseas voting leads me to believe they are talking about internet voting, which would be a disaster.  This could, of course, simply mean automated voting, which would be slightly less of a disaster.   Indonesia, the Philippines and India are all examples of non-Western democracies that have implemented automated voting; the success of such programs is subjective, but generally acknowledged.   All of those processes, however, took considerable time to develop (not five months!).  While I have heard that India was advising Egypt on election administration, I find it hard to believe they would recommend moving to this system so quickly.

This leads me to believe they may actually be thinking about internet voting.   This actually might be better than an automated system, as it would not require buying thousands of machines (and training people how to use them).  Internet voting, however, is far from secure.  I would also think a high profile election like Egypt’s would attract top hacker talent  – some political, some bored teenagers – from around the world.  So don’t’ be surprised if internet votes make Ruby the next president of Egypt.

Elections in E-stonia

Internet Voting in Estonia

I have a new post over at ElectionGuide.org detailing the upcoming election in Estonia.  It’s a basic rundown of the election that discusses, among other things, Estonia’s innovative Internet voting system.  I think  it’s a fair question to ask if anybody really needs internet voting, and if the potential costs are really worth anything gained.  Regardless of the answer to that, I believe Estonia has done an impressive job of making their system as secure and safe as can be.  Take, for example, their solution to the problem of vote buying.   The privacy of a voting booth, if executed correctly, can destroy much of the potential for vote buying.  This is because it makes it difficult for a vote-buyer to verify how a ballot was actually cast. (Yes there are ways around this, that’s why I said “if executed correctly”).  This protection would be lost with the ability to vote from anywhere at anytime.   Estonia, however, has found a solution to this.

To address this problem, Estonian officials came up with an innovative solution:  an elector can cast as many internet votes as they like in the allotted timeframe, but only the last vote will count.  In addition, an elector may still cast a paper ballot on election day, which will void all previous votes cast through the internet. This setup destroys the incentive for a vote buyer to purchase a vote, as they have no guarantee that the voter cannot simply change it at a later time

I would also add that this goes above and beyond the state of Washington, which votes entirely by mail, and is theoretically subject to the same level of vote buying.

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