6 May 2017, by Francine Barsam
With the general election swiftly approaching, conversation in the office this week turned to why we’re still unable to vote online and what might have to change in order to make voting online a possibility.
The first and probably most obvious argument against online voting is security of the system. In a year of particularly prominent news relating to online security breaches and cyber-attacks, such as the recent attack on the NHS, it’s only too clear that the internet isn’t exactly the safest of places. Moving voting online opens it up to many potential problems, not least from external groups but even from the people who might take responsibility for building the systems by which we could vote online. Simply, it would be too difficult to find a totally impartial party to create a voting system. Regardless of whether a company had any political affiliations or motivations, it would be nigh on impossible to put together a team of developers who had no political leanings of their own.
And if it’s not possible to impartially build a voting system then, it’s difficult to expect the public to put their trust in the system and believe that their vote will be accurately counted and untampered with. Trials of electronic voting machines in the past have already flagged various problems, including demonstrations of the ability to alter the software they run on with just 60 seconds and a USB stick. Creating a voting system where anyone could simply vote from their desk at work or their smartphone would throw the net wide open to all manner of threats. There’s no simple way that the public could be shown that their votes had been counted and communicated accurately.
Convenience would be the most cited reason for allowing voting to take place over the internet, but one could argue that the fact that people have to make the effort to go and vote means that only those that have a real interest in the outcome of the election are likely to bother voting. Online voting would be open to manipulation on a large scale, but also due to convenience, it could be quite easy to persuade someone who wasn’t planning to vote to let someone else use their vote. By making voting so convenient, votes could end up being traded for something so minimal as a cup of coffee or a sandwich. Postal voting lessens the likelihood of such simple manipulation taking place.
It doesn’t seem that online voting is something that will happen anytime in the foreseeable future and with the majority of the kinks having been ironed out of the current paper voting system, other than convenience for both the voter and the people responsible for counting the votes, there’s no great argument that online voting would improve anything other than voter turnout. It would however be interesting to see online voting tested parallel to a paper vote to test the increase in turnout, but until an online vote is counted as relevant it wouldn’t be open to the genuine threats that online voting is so exposed to. Essentially, even testing an electronic system alongside the current system would simply be likened to an elaborate exit poll at best. So for now at least, it looks like we’ll be sticking to paper and pencil.