Should Electronic Voting Systems Be Used in Political Elections?

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Should electronic voting systems be used in political elections? MSc Software Development • 28 January 2013

INTRODUCTION

As a modern nation under a democratically elected government, providing a reliable, userfriendly balloting system for the electorate is an important requirement. Given the ubiquity of information technology and its utilisation into a constantly expanding array of industries and services, governments around the world have been debating, trialling and even implementing the use of Electronic Voting (e-voting) methods. With this debate comes a range of concerns relating to security, reliability, accessibility and trust over such systems. Advocates of these technologies argue that such issues as voter turnout and election costs may be improved while sceptics point out evidence which disproves such claims and raises further issues and complications not found with traditional paper methods. In this essay I will discuss some examples of different e-voting technologies and some of the problems surrounding them. I will then discuss some other more general issues relating to the topic and try and draw conclusions from existing research into the field. Though the topic is large, in order to narrow the debate for the purpose of this essay, I will attempt to relate examples to the UK and USA where possible.

TYPES OF ELECTRONIC VOTING

E-voting as it exists today takes a variety of forms, from paper punch cards counted electronically to entirely online voting methods whereby the electorate vote over the internet. This compares with the traditional method of marking a card or piece of paper and putting it into a ballot box to be counted by hand. There are several arguments for and against the use of e-voting systems, with each method presenting its own issues. In the UK, though traditional paper methods are still in use for general elections, there is still much discourse over the potential utilisation of electronic voting systems. Pilots have taken place in the last decade[1] including the use of an optical scan voting system to electronically count paper votes in the Scottish Parliament and council elections in 2007[2], an infamous example of a problematic case. In this example, problems with the design of the ballot papers resulted in over 150,000 spoilt votes. To put this into perspective, this equates to over 3.8% of the vote and, in this case, close enough to swing the vote in the favour of the Labour Party over the triumphant SNP[3]. This may raise questions over the reliability of the win and in turn, the democratic mandate of the governing party, potentially devaluing the election result. Another method is the use of e-voting kiosks whereby direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting machines record the results of votes in computerised memory in order to supply instant results without the need for counting. Paper ballots naturally provide proof of results. Unless the DRE machines record the votes on paper straight after processing, an error in the system can't be provided with any hard evidence or paper trail for the results[4]. Though in theory a working system could make the process smoother, in practise they come with all the bugs commonly associated with computer programs. Examples such as the malfunctioning DRE machine during the recent US presidential campaign (whereby a voter selected one candidate but the machine recognised it as another)[5] make for amusing anecdotes but may also voice concern over the reliability of such systems and, as a result, reduce voter confidence.

A third style of e-voting which still hasn't been utilised in political elections in the UK is remote or internet voting which could be suggested to reduce the need for the electorate to travel to vote. Supporters of this method argue that it could increase voter turnout[6] therefore aiding democracy. But in 2005, Estonia introduced internet methods for voting in the parliamentary elections and found no noticeable...
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