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We Can Bank Online – But Can’t Vote Online?

09 Aug 2017
We Can Bank Online – But Can’t Vote Online?

The effect of technology in our lives today is almost immeasurable – from the day of birth to the day we depart this life, we either use technology in some form, or have it used on us, every single day. So why are we still using pen and paper in voting booths every time there is an election? Why are there hundreds of people employed on a casual basis once every four years to count millions of bits of paper?

Apparently the technology is not yet robust enough for digital voting, and those against the introduction argue it would be a dangerous threat to the integrity of New Zealand elections. Anyone from a disgruntled individual, to a foreign intelligence agency could hack into an online election, completely disrupting the process, and possibly resulting in the completely wrong party being elected.

Advocates of online voting argue that people should be able to vote from the comfort of their own home, using their own computers or mobile devices, and that this will speed up the whole process, and cut the expenditure necessary for an election significantly. They maintain that banks around the world have designed systems with strong enough technology to protect the many millions and possibly billions of dollars that are transacted daily.

But – are we deluded about the safety of these transactions? E-Commerce transactions are not actually as safe as we assume they are. Yes, millions of people transact billions of dollars around the world every day, secure in their assumption that their money is safe – and it is – for them. Not so much for the banks. E-commerce transactions are safe for the consumer – as up until now the banks have generally carried the risk. Britain’s leading expert on cyber security, Ross Anderson, refuses to bank online, citing the incredible growth of fraud as the reason. He says that banks are shifting liability away from themselves and back to the customer – with UK banks projected to lose 130 million pounds from fraudulent transactions in 2017, this is a loss they are no longer prepared to absorb.

So what are the actual threats involved in online voting? Are we really at risk of some cyber-criminal in China or Russia hacking into our election and making sure the McGillicuddy Serious party wins? The risk is probably not great – the problem is going to be when an electorate is very closely fought. In 2011 we had one of the closest results in New Zealand history, when Paula Bennett won her seat by just 9 votes after a judicial recount. They got all the thousands of paper ballots out, and under the close watch of a judge and several scrutineers every single vote was counted again – and at the end of the day, every party agreed on the total. With online voting that would not be possible if the result was so close, and malware was found in the system a day after the election.

It is widely thought that online voting will engage the ‘missing million’ – the theoretical million voters that are eligible to vote, but don’t bother. Reasons given range from apathy through to disability, but possibly addressing these reasons may be a better solution than throwing millions at another system.

Advocates of online election voting are adamant that it is inevitable, but what is actually inevitable is that someone will try and tamper with the system – just because they can.

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