Panel says Internet voting ‘not secure enough yet’
By Patrick Vaillancourt, News Editor
A panel formed at the solicitation of the Government of British Columbia to examine the feasibility of Internet voting in municipal and provincial elections has returned recommendations that will put such a measure on hold for the foreseeable future.
The Independent Panel on Internet Voting has returned recommendations to study online voting further, saying that the inherent risks that currently exist in today’s online environment outweigh the potential benefits.
The panel was chaired by Dr. Keith Archer, British Columbia’s chief electoral officer, and included four other members with backgrounds in technology, Internet security policy, cryptography, and electoral administration.
While the panel did not recommend the implementation of Internet voting, they have started a provincial consultation process to engage British Columbians on the subject. The consultation will proceed until December 4 and public feedback can be submitted online at Internetvotingpanel.ca
Dr. Darin Nesbitt, chair of the political science department at Douglas College, applauded the panel’s well-researched conclusions and encouraged all British Columbians to offer their feedback online.
“The report is well-researched and an important document for all British Columbians to consider,” said Dr. Nesbitt in an interview with the Other Press.
Advocates of the Internet voting initiative argue that allowing people to vote from their home or office computers will increase turnout, but the preliminary report concluded that there was no evidence in the case studies examined that would result in greater voter engagement. Dr. Nesbitt said that while the report does not conclude higher turnout, he acknowledged that the benefits of Internet voting are evident.
“The report notes that supplementing the current voting system with remote Internet voting would benefit current voters in ways other than increasing voter turnout rates, especially with increased accessibility and convenience.”
Dr. Nesbitt, when asked about the report’s flaws, said that the implicit cost-benefit analysis provided for in the report was somewhat vague, saying that “the report does not define what constitutes a reasonable or acceptable limit on the costs of implementing remote Internet voting.”
In recommending a delay in implementing Internet voting for municipal and provincial elections in BC, the panel suggests that the cost of its implementation may be too much for the taxpayer to bear.
“Security at the voter’s device, reduced transparency and auditability compared to traditional voting methods, and cost were seen by the panel to be the most significant challenges to implementing Internet voting for either local government or provincial government elections,” said the report’s executive summary.
Dr. Nesbitt took aim at the notion that cost should determine how elections are conducted in British Columbia.
“In my view, what British Columbians—the government and citizens—need to reconsider is the increasingly prominent view that the cost of local and provincial elections should be the determining criterion for conducting them,” said Dr. Nesbitt. “The provincial government must ensure public monies are wisely and efficiently expended, but voting and elections are basic and essential to democratic governance.”
Dr. Nesbitt suggested that public funds be diverted from the government’s “massive” communications budget and spent instead on the administration of local and provincial elections.
The Independent Panel on Internet Voting was formed at the request of the provincial government, in part to reverse the troubling downward trend of voter engagement, particularly in municipal elections. In the 2011 municipal elections, turnout in the City of New Westminster was 24.22 per cent, while the City of Vancouver had a better turnout at 34.57 per cent.
The preliminary report of the Independent Panel for Internet Voting can be viewed online at internetvotingpanelca.blob.core.windows.net/internetvotingpanelca/ipiv-prelim-rpt-20131023.pdf