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No online voting this year

Paul Brislen, Editor. 19 April 2016, 11:24 am

Associate Local Government Minister, Louise Upston, has cancelled a proposed trial of online voting at the next local body elections.

Eight councils, Selwyn, Wellington, Porirua, Masterton, Rotorua, Matamata Piako, Palmerston North and Whanganui, expressed an interest in online voting as part of this year's election.

Upston said security testing of online voting had been prepared but could not be carried out in time for the poll in October. This decision did not impact on any future trials of online voting, but in a statement Upston said security was a major consideration and that maintaining public confidence in the system was more important than holding a trial this year.

A poll of IITP members conducted late last year overwhelming showed support for online voting, despite vocal opposition to the idea.

At the time, IITP noted:

While online voting is used successfully in a number of jurisdictions around the world, there have been security-related incidents involving online voting systems in the past. Given the importance of voting to the democratic process, some IT Professionals (and others) are very concerned about the security, as well as the auditability, of votes cast online versus via paper.

Arguably the worst incident was the 2010 takedown of a Washington State voting trial system during a public mock election, prior to their full election. This wasn't technically a full online voting system, but rather a system that allowed votes in PDF documents to be uploaded. The system was developed by the Open Source Digital Voting Foundation (now OSET Foundation). As a result of the system's open source nature, a group from the University of Michigan analysed the code and managed to completely take over the voting server.

Interestingly, some online voting experts now recommend against open source for online voting systems as a result of this takedown. We think they're missing the point - if vulnerabilities exist in the software, it's better for it to be open to all eyes and thus them become aware of vulnerabilities than not - especially given a core component of democracy is at stake.

However despite these issues, Washington State provides online voting today for overseas or military voters, the initial target groups, along the lines of their failed 2010 trial. Presumably with better security standards in place.



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David Lane 22 April 2016, 11:59 am

Amusingly, I'm a registered voter in the US state of Washington, and I've got my Presidential Primary overseas postal voting paper sitting right in front of me. The instructions to email my vote make me want to cry (the FAX approach they also offer seems a lot less risky). That the WA electoral office thinks that this is advisable beggars belief. I guess they assume that there'll be so few votes cast this way (and they don't count them unless the conventional vote is very close) that it'll be lost in the noise. Sadly, they'll no doubt be pointing at this (and the lack of verifiable exploitation) as justification of rolling out online voting in place of conventional in-person booths.

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