Wednesday, August 4, 2021
HomeEditorialOnline voting could threaten the fundamental legitimacy of elections

Online voting could threaten the fundamental legitimacy of elections

Significant changes to the existing voting technology may produce intended or unintended side effects on voters’ behaviour and participation. The Election Commission (EC) may be busy trying to dispel all doubts over EVMs and VVPATs but it is also closely monitoring the research on a challenging dream project of fully electronic internet-based voting or two-way electronic transmission of the ballot, as it is referred to in electoral terminology. The Centre for Advanced Computing (C­DAC), which is working on the project, is in advanced discussions with EC teams and stakeholder departments of telecom and posts to address key red flags, ensuring vote audit trail and multiple levels of encryption in a two-way electronic ballot. The project was entrusted by the EC to C­DAC in mid-2017. According to the EC officials, once successfully tested, it would first be tried at a by-election as a pilot next year after the Lok Sabha elections. Depending on how the pilot goes, it would be tried at an assembly election before any large scale plans. The project is currently at an R&D stage and is being looked at from every aspect.

Any advancement is good but there is a vast difference in casting votes from the polling booths and casting votes online. This new voting technology may also affect voters’ behaviour by altering perceptions of ballot security and secrecy of the ballot choice. Differences in voter trust are often seen as an important consideration when proposing a change in voting technologies. Implementation of a new voting technology without adequate poll worker training may reduce voter evaluations of the voting process. Changes to existing voting technology can also take a partisan tone if ballot order and turnout are affected. An open question remains that if differences in voting technology affect vote choice and turnout decisions. Most of the voters have already lost faith in EVMs and they are demanding back the ballot box system and in such a political scenario, going for E-voting will definitely raise the brows. People may lose faith in the electoral system.

At a time when even the EVM, which has been used so successfully for years now, is being doubted, the biggest challenge in the coming years will be socio-political — that of building consent and confidence for electronic voting. The technological challenges, however, are huge. For instance, discussions are on over the authentication of the voter and whether it should be done through an OTP based approach or biometric based. The first could leave out those without access to mobile phones or good network connections. While biometrics only can work, seeding voter cards with Aadhaar too gets the go ahead.

Then there is the crucial question of audit trail, whether the vote cast has reached and counted and how can the voter verify that. The postal department needs plans to integrate a bar code on the ballot to make it traceable.

It is being considered that maybe we should devise our own mechanism to send and receive encrypted ballot instead of using an external mechanism. There are other questions like ensuring access to those with disabilities and the question of whether electronic voting should be allowed only at a fixed time on polling day or left open for a week to rule out any possible coercion. For some nations, automated elections mean that people can trust the results because it allows for a process that is so auditable, transparent, and secure. Of course, electronic voting also helps reduce human error. For other countries, particularly large ones like Brazil, India, and the Philippines, electronic voting and electronic counting means that the people can get official election results within hours, instead of weeks. Again, this builds trust.

It’s also vitally important that everyone who is eligible to participate in elections can do so. E-voting is very good at making voting more accessible and it’s easier for the disable people to vote independently. Although, the computers are very complicated things and there’s no way with any reasonable amount of resources that you can guarantee that the software and hardware are bug-free and that they haven’t been maliciously attacked. The problems are growing in complexity faster than the methods to keep up with them. From that perspective, looking at a system that relies on the perfectibility of computers is a really bad idea. Compared with the touchscreen voting machines, the opportunity for attacks on the Internet is much broader. Suppose that masses of emails get sent out to naive users saying that the voting website has been changed and after you submit your ballot and your credentials to the fake website, it helpfully votes for you but changes some of the votes. You also have bots where a single person who uses them to send out spam controls millions of individual machines. There is a program just sleeping there waiting for somebody to come in and use it. Think about the consequences when it’s time for an election. People would vote on their personal computers, not knowing that they were handing the ballot to a potential hostile middleman who could change the vote and neither the voters nor the election officials would see anything suspicious. Because of the secret ballot, there is no way for the voter to check that the ballot transmitted to the elections office is the one they filled out on their computer.

To hack a computerised system is not very hard, as we can see from the frequent news stories about massive thefts of data from the government and corporate web servers. Moreover, there are many other threats including voters who are not experts in computer security and may be easily fooled and potential for corrupt insiders at companies that produce Internet voting software. With paper ballots at polling places, to steal a significant number of votes, you’d have to have lots of poll workers or a lot of voters voting fraudulently which would be very difficult and expensive. While with paperless touchscreen voting, you might need only a few programmers. If you had widespread Internet voting, on the other hand, the vulnerabilities are even more worrying. From the perspective of election trustworthiness, Internet voting is a complete disaster. While you can’t stop all the election frauds, elections must have a higher standard of credibility. They need to have the perception of being low in frauds. If you have an election system where fraud can be committed and – this is very important – if that fraud is undetectable, you don’t really have a reason to trust the outcome of the election.


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Dr Vaidehi Tamanhttp://www.vaidehisachin.com
Dr Vaidehi an Accredited Journalist from Maharashtra is bestowed with Honourary Doctorate in Journalism, Investigative Journalist, Editor, Ethical Hacker, Philanthropist, and Author. She is Editor-in-Chief of Newsmakers Broadcasting and Communications Pvt. Ltd. for 11 years, which features an English daily tabloid – Afternoon Voice, a Marathi web portal – Mumbai Manoos, monthly magazines like Hackers5, Beyond The News (international) and Maritime Bridges. She is also an EC Council Certified Ethical Hacker, Certified Security Analyst and is also a Licensed Penetration Tester which caters to her freelance jobs.

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