Is E-Voting a solution? To which problem?


(this page is part of the Family Guide to Digital Freedom, 2007 edition and an example of the issues presented in my Digital Citizens Basics course. Please do read its introduction to know more about the Guide, especially if you mean to comment this page. Thanks)

E-voting is coming, or has already arrived, in my Country. How can I understand if it’s implemented properly, without risks of abuse? What is the right way to e-vote?

Let’s start with the real question that almost nobody asks: is e-voting necessary in the first place? Does it really makes any sense at all?

In order to understand which problem(s) e-voting should actually solve,what is real cost is and how things are going now, we will now shortly review the main justifications presented for e-voting, and then look at some reports from the trenches.

E-Voting is good because…

….it stimulates people to vote

Nice start. Did you realize that they are insulting you, by treating you like an infant? “Bobby will eat his peas quietly if the TV is on”! Do they think you can’t hold a pen? Why aren’t you voting? Is it really because a pen signature on a sheet of paper is oh so much more boring (or difficult) than placing a finger on a monitor? Or is it because all the available choices are equally depressing, wherever you read them? People who don’t vote because it’s boring have bigger problems, and probably deserve anybody who is elected thanks to their absence.

Said this, even if gadgets were really a solution to low voters turnout, there is no doubt that scratch-n-sniff stickers or Playboy calendars would be a much more effective, cheaper and safer solution than any untested technology.

….it reduces voters’ errors

See the comment above on placing a finger versus holding a pen. Anybody who seriously believes this has never stopped one second to compare the number of people who can still write a simple note without assistance to that of people who still stare at a computer screen. Pen and paper are still immensely more familiar and less intimidating than computers.

….it reduces counting errors and frauds

Too many young peoples are unable to count properly and part of the fault is just the misuse of computers, but we digress. Sure, humans make many more errors than computers when counting manually. But it only takes one flaw in the computerized booths, or one person rewriting their output remotely, to alter many more votes, much more quickly, than if humans were doing the job and checking each other’s results. If vote counters are humans, you have to corrupt or menace many more people to steal thousands of votes and get away with it.

… it’s much faster

How often will you be called to vote in the next ten years? Every day? Elections of Parliaments, Presidents, Majors and similar normally take place every two to five years. A country without e-voting, but with a decent procedure will know the result, without ambiguities, in a couple of days anyway. If this doesn’t happen, there are problems that no e-voting could fix. What is the difference between knowing the new President four years and two days after the previous election and knowing him or her four years and two hours later? How can you justify rebuilding the whole system from scratch to gain about one day every few years?

… it saves money

Sure. A lot. Enough to fix the whole country deficit, no question about it. Like we just said, how often will you be called to vote in the next ten years? Please take all the money spent to count votes in the last election without e-voting and divide it by the whole State budget between two consecutive election. The percentage savings would be greater if we just switched the light off every time we go to the bathroom. Any savings caused by e-voting would be much smaller than the dangers it creates. If you don’t believe this, just keep reading.

E-voting nightmares

In July 2006 in Sacramento experts found what may be “the worst security flaw we have seen in touch screen voting machines”. They reported that, having access to these machines, it would be possible to completely rig an election without leaving a trace.

These are just a little part of the many proofs that this technology isn’t mature enough to be trusted. But besides this, there’s more… (continues here).

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