E-voting under review as federal election results loom

AIIA and industry experts debate pros and cons of e-voting

e-voting

e-voting

With the results of the Federal Election still undetermined, debate rages about whether the use of electronic voting by way of computer stations at polling booths, online voting or voting via a mobile phone could have quickened the outcome.

If electronic voting was in place, the country would have known the outcome of Saturday’s election minutes after the polls closed, according to the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA), the nation’s peak body for the technology industry.

AIIA CEO, Rob Fitzpatrick, said the process of paper voting is “extraordinarily inefficient and expensive.”

“Money invested in a universal electronic voting system would return savings very quickly,” Fitzpatrick said.

“And the government should be on the front foot of innovation and change. With the technology available today, electronic voting makes so much sense. Why spend valuable taxpayer funds on this 19th Century practice when that money could be put to far better use?”

According to AIIA, the cost of the Federal election to run in 2013 was $193 million, while the 2010 Federal election cost $160 million.

In addition to time and cost savings, electronic voting could increase the integrity and security of the voting process, he added. “With today’s archaic system, votes can be miscounted, misread, or even simply misplaced, as they were in the 2013 Western Australia Senate election.”

Australia has made some inroads into electronic voting, Fitzpatrick said, explaining how electronically assisted voting (EAV) has been available at voting centres in Victorian state elections since 2006.

In NSW state elections, the iVote electronic voting system was introduced in 2011 and is available to electors who are blind, have reading difficulties or other disabilities, live more than 20km from a polling booth, or will be interstate or overseas on election day.

“NSW and Victoria have shown us that electronic voting can work. It’s now time to take what they’ve learned and apply it on a larger scale throughout Australia,” said Fitzpatrick. “All Brazilian elections have been fully electronic since 2000, and countries like India and Estonia have electronic voting on a large scale, so we know it can be done.”

And while industry pundits recognise that e-voting technology could revolutionise the process, security concerns continue to be the main inhibitor.

ESET, senior research fellow, Nick FitzGerald, said voting electronically has too many risks to be safely considered today.

“Electronic voting seems like a rational step towards improving the efficiency of voting systems as we’re now used to doing almost everything online or via electronic devices. However, if a government body were to get involved in an electronic voting process, they’d need to recognise the potential cybersecurity impact and risks,” FitzGerald said.

“The value of undetectably subverting the result of an election is enormous, and there are well-placed concerns that poorly designed or implemented e-voting and i-voting systems could make achieving this much easier than in conventional voting systems. For example, in the US in the last couple of decades, there have been many issues with the voting machines themselves, not to mention the vote collating processes and so on.”

He said voting electronically would need some specific security measures and the machines would need to be properly equipped to counter cyber attacks.

“If e-criminals could gain illicit access to the voting machines or vote counting processes, they could insert malware to subvert the vote-taking software in the voting machines, or miscommunicate or otherwise usurp the vote collation and counting process.”

Additionally, he said votes sent over the internet could be targeted by a third-party attack against the voter’s browser or man-in-the-middle network attacks while hackers could also compromise users by sending fake registration confirmation emails.

“Strong attacks could be launched against passwords, while ‘hacktivists’ may look to carry out a DDoS attack, flooding the vote-registering web server with traffic and knocking the voting system offline altogether.”

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