Sunday, August 12, 2012

B.C. Considering Internet Voting

The Canadian province of British Columbia is considering studying internet voting. I've written about this topic before and it continues to generate hysterical reactions in the comment sections of various media outlets.

The interesting thing about this hostility to online voting is that it comes at a time when people in Canada are pretty turned off with politics, and voter turnout rates especially among youth, are at historic lows. Academics and politicians are continually lamenting this democratic deficit and trying to find ways to re-engage people. In this context online voting makes sense, and the people frustrated with "politics" because their voice is not heard, should welcome an easier way to vote. But instead the comments sections are overwhelmingly opposed to online voting, which I believe shows both a fundamental lack of understanding how the electoral process in Canada works, and also a fundamental lack of understanding regarding the technology of the internet.

Let's go through a few of the comments on two sites that posted news stories on this topic, CTV News and Opinion 250 News.

The biggest complaint seems to be the idea that the internet will make fraud easy, and there are even a few references to the Conservatives various voter suppression tactics of the last federal election. Internet voting would have eliminated the possibility for such Conservative dirty tricks, as robocalls telling people their polling station has changed wouldn't work.

The bigger question about fraud though assumes that the internet is a less secure medium because of "hacking". Never mind that the current set up lets pretty much anyone vote as many times as they feel like it, so long as they can either get someone to vouch for them or have documentation with multiple addresses. Anyone who has moved often and kept old hydro or cable bills, could easily show up at a polling station on election day, say they're not registered because they just moved, show the documentation and vote. None of which requires any technical skill. Compare that to hacking into a government computer system and intercepting encrypted traffic in real time. The current system allows anyone, now matter how much of a dope they are to commit electoral fraud, whereas an internet voting system would require one to be a top flight internet security expert. If "hacking" was as easy as these people say it is, then virtually anyone with an internet connection could rob a bank and get away with it, considering that virtually all global financial transactions are electronic now. Why bother with trying to change an election when one could just as easily hack the stock market and become an instant millionaire? Does anyone actually believe that if the technology were not secure, capital markets would use it?

Another common sentiment in the comments is that voting online would be too easy, and thus somehow cheapen the electoral process if there was actual mass participation. The fact that right-wing parties have flourished in low-turnout environments is the source of such conservative and anti-political sentiment. The fear here is precisely that elections might actually end up electing people that the population likes.


Mr. Mcgranor said...

What a horrible idea.

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