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Why E-Voting is a No Go

By Bryce Tidwell

It’s impossible to talk about E-voting without covering the threat of cyber attackers influencing elections. When a voting system is moved online, the fear of electoral fraud becomes even more of an issue. It is far more likely that someone would tamper with a database than go from polling station to polling station to tamper with the votes. Security threats and the costs involved are the major reasons that keep governments from investing in online voting systems, and rightly so. There haven’t been any breakthroughs that make it acceptably trustworthy, so why risk it?

E-voting already exists worldwide, and has for a few years now. In America, at least 31 states as well as D.C. let military and expatriate voters use the internet to submit marked ballots via email. Jeremy Epstein, a senior computer scientist at SRI international, says, ‘The motivation to offer internet voting is a good one to make it easier for geographically dispersed people’. In 2012 Alaska became the first state to allow internet voting to all of its residents, though this was largely due to its sheer size and relatively small population. At around 1.7 million square kilometres, Alaska’s population sits at 740,000 people. In this scenario, you can see why an online voting system might be necessary.

For context, the UK has a population of around 63.1 million and is only 243,610 square kilometres. It is very easy for the vast majority of people to reach a polling station, and people who can’t reach polling stations because of other reasons—a physical disability or illness, for example—can always rely on a proxy vote. The process of setting up such a system here would be costly and time-consuming. It can’t be worth all that money and work to marginally increase the ease of voting.

Pro E-voters often put forward the case that a computer-based voting system would allow people to vote with greater ease and, in turn, would increase voter turnout. However, I don’t know if that’s necessarily a good thing. People who go out and vote do so because they feel they know what they want from an election. They have informed themselves on the options available to them in any given election and have aligned themselves with their chosen candidate. Introducing an online voting system may pull in these previously apathetic voters who chose to avoid voting based purely upon the physical effort required. But who wants a vote given with little thought? It stops being what the people want and becomes more about what people can be bothered to click. Or worse, what people have been told to click on by family or friends.

I remain unconvinced that online voting systems propose any kind of solution. The ones that go out and vote were always going to do so. People need to believe that elections are important and that they can make a difference. They don’t need the voting process to be made any easier than it already is.

This article was published in our November 2016 issue.

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