UK e-voting plans slammed by parliamentary committee

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Update: As Daniel has decided to accuse me of dishonest reporting, please see the end of this article for more information that should explain the whole situation a little better.

vote.gifSir Alistair Graham, Chairman of the UK’s parliamentary Committee on Standards in Public Life, has slammed the concept of e-voting in the UK, saying that a rise in electoral fraud in postal voting means that developing electronic voting systems should be postponed or scrapped.

“I’m no Luddite,” he said, but made it clear that a democracy was not “a pick ‘n’ mix commodity. Voting is a civic duty, it is not like shopping.”

Graham suggested that a decline in numbers of people voting was not fixable by making the voting process easier – all that did was give another opportunity for fraudsters to jump in.

Plans were in place to pilot telephone, text, and electronic voting during the May local elections. This should be put on hold. The current situation is “akin to a bank which secures an individual’s transactions but had not verified that individual’s identity when he opened his account”.

I’m inclined to agree, particularly that voter apathy is not going to be remedied by giving them more varied methods of voting.

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Update: Here’s the situation as I believe it is. Perhaps if this is wrong, someone could helpfully comment and fill in the gaps, rather than merely telling me I’m wrong and could do so much better:

* The current voting system (not technological – you go in and put your cross(es) on a piece of paper and put it in the box) is flawed and open to abuse, because the head of the household takes responsibility for filling in who is eligible to vote at that residence, which not surprisingly is open to abuse.
* The way to fix this system is to require each individual to register.
* Sir Alistair Graham has called for new methods of voting, including by text message, email, and the Internet, to be put on hold until the existing system can be made watertight.
* New systems are likely to have teething problems and there is potential for these also to be abused. It’s vital that these new plans do not detract from the goal of having a fraud-free voting system, in whatever form that takes.
* Quote from Sir Alistair Graham: “Postal voting on demand, e-voting or telephone voting? They all sound such handy innovations; such a modern way to help busy consumers who cannot tear themselves away from the television or the shops to cast a conventional vote. But all the glib talk about the need to find customer-friendly ways of voting by post, text and the Internet has ignored the hard truth that once you allow ballot papers to leave polling stations, the opportunities for fraud multiply and the secrecy of the ballot is compromised.

Andy Merrett

2 comments

  • Dear Andy

    Thank you for covering this important issue – it’s great to see new people reporting on the problems with e-voting.

    A few comments I hope you will find helpful.

    1. Registration problems and weaknesses are something that affects all channels of voting (paper, postal, e-voting etc). I personally have referred to these problems many times over the years and I support reforms such as individual voter registration.

    2. Sir Alistair’s comments explicitly criticise e-voting systems by noting that they, like postal voting, take the ballot out of the polling station opening up possibilities for all sorts of fraud. However e-voting allows fraud and error on much larger scale than possible with e-voting.

    This is one of the main reasons why the Open Rights Group is campaigning against the introduction of electronic voting systems.

    It’s worth noting that Sir Alistair and his committee came to similar conclusions as we have completely independently of each other. In other words, once you understand the issues, the problems with e-voting are self-evident.

    More information is available on our e-voting site: http://www.openrightsgroup.org/e-voting-main/

  • Nice to see you’re following the Kitcat / ORG line of spin on this one.

    Wouldn’t it have been fairer (and much more accurate) to describe where Sir Graham considered the problems to actually be? i.e. around voter registration, rather than the specific voting technologies. Or that the May pilots encompass more than just eVoting technologies.

    No that would be honest reporting. Spin the story to fit your existing opinion… nice work.

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