Meeting notes 6th March 2018

ORG e-voting round-table notes (Scotland)

by Paul Bradley

Open Rights Group: 

1. Reason for this round-table

SG consultation on electoral reform, including options around e-voting:

2. Initial thoughts

  • Elections must be
    • secure
    • verifiable (trustworthy and accurate, recountable)
    • anonymous (to prevent vote-buying, coercion etc).
  • No-one has achieved all three of these.
    • There is secure online banking, but this isn’t a worthwhile analogy because it’s not anonymous. (You need to state and prove who you are before you get access to your accounts.)
  • E-voting hasn’t increased turnout – there are many other reasons why people don’t vote.
  • There are significant problems with all forms of e-voting so far
    • A significant set of problems is around trust of these systems
  • Norway trialled a very good and open source e-voting system but concluded that costs and risks make it not worthwhile.
  • Estonia’s e-voting system is insecure
    • It was found that attackers can steal votes individually and en masse
    • And that the election outcomes could be undetectably altered by attackers
  • Mild growth in turnout (in Estonia?) is probably not linked to e-voting
  • All digital systems can’t do recounts, so we will never know what happened in the USA (2016 elections).
  • However, there may be options to use assistive technology
    • to assist disabled voters
    • to enable voting at non-traditional place

2.1. Discussion: what is underexplored?

  • Whether people feel voting will make a difference?
  • Alternative polling places?
  • Longer polling time (e.g. all weekend) or polling day is a national holiday?
  • Is there good engagement from pols <–> citizens?
  • Transparency in government to improve turnout?
  • Making local elections coterminous with national elections?
    • There is evidence that when this happens, still nationals turnout is greater than locals turnout.
    • Presumably because people prioritise national elections
    • More ballot papers = more confusion/spoilt votes
    • Feelings about relative importance of positions, e.g. in Denmark, a politician was seen as promoted when he/she/it moved from national parliament to being a mayor
    • Enquiry after coterminous Scottish elections in 2007 led to statute forbidding coterminosity
      (2012 and 2017 Local government elections via STV are seen as successes)
  • Manual verification of e-counted paper votes is a good thing. But recounts are costly!
    • This has been trialled but not on actual votes in the UK
    • British Computer Society says that manual counts of actual votes is necessary to prove these systems work (cf Volkswagen systems that pass tests but do bad things in normal use)

3. So what is SG doing and considering?

  • There is a manifesto commitment to trial e-voting in some form.
    • There is no decision or commitment on what form(s) will be trialled.
  • Legislation will be needed to change anything
  • Options being considered in the consultation include
    • Online voting
    • Machine voting in polling places
  • But SG want to understand first
    • FIRST how people feel about e-voting in general
    • THEN feelings on specifics, e.g. e-assistive technology
  • SG also considering
    • Rotation of candidates on STV ballot papers (first-named pols from same party get more votes)
    • It wants to increase turnout
      Perhaps enabling any voter to vote in any polling place – this would need technology!
    • It wants to reduce invalid ballots
    • It wants to assist folk with difficulties, e.g. non paper-based ballots

3.1. Discussion

  • Experience is when e-voting is available, older folk e-vote but young folk still don’t vote.
  • There are reasons why electronic voting is eminently hackable.
  • There isn’t hard evidence for reasons behind UK’s poor turnout
  • The theory that ‘smaller constituencies –> better turnout’ is incorrect, apparently.
  • There is evidence from participatory budgeting that people like being able to vote at places other than the PB main event.
  • Technology can be separated from contexts: what about GDPR and privacy by design?
  • If we trial system X in constituency 1, and system Y in constituency 2, losers in constituency 2 may claim ‘I would have won if we had used system X here. Therefore this vote is invalid!’
  • There is some evidence that e-voting reduces costs.
  • As I see it,
    • E-voting software (and hardware?) must be completely open(-source), to be transparent and fair – and maybe reduce costs.
    • It’s unavoidable that trials will eventually have to be in actual elections. Turnout in other trials will be much less – and so won’t test the systems as much as real elections.