by Chloe Dobinson

CSO analysis: Security and privacy challenges surrounding online voting | Why the UK has not implemented online ballots

Jul 11, 2016
Data CenterMobile AppsSecurity Software

Following the EU referendum result a YouGov survey suggested that an additional 1.2 million young people would have voted if they could have done so online.

Meanwhile, House of Commons Speaker John Bercow last year suggested online voting should be implemented in the UK by 2020. So trials for a UK e-voting system will be introduced, at some stage. And the current postal system is expensive to run, hard to manage and time consuming for voters. It’s also not 100 percent secure.

An accessible voting system in the UK could make it easier for groups such as the disabled, the elderly, and overseas users to cast a vote, too.

So why don’t we have online voting? The UK’s main concern with the e-voting solution is security. But data protection and speed are concerns too. CIO UK looks at the challenges a CTO would face when implementing online voting, and looks at whether the UK is really falling behind in the digital democracy landscape.

The UK and online voting: Falling behind?

Electronic voting has been seen to be efficient in some parts of the world, with examples including touchscreen-based voting machines at polling stations and online voting through mobile platforms. Assessing the service for an e-democracy has commenced, with some countries registering an electronic identity for voters.

Countries such as Estonia, Switzerland and Australia are at least talking about implementing aspects of a secure digital voting channel. But despite trials in 2002, 2003 and 2007, the UK is no closer to online voting, and seems unlikely to meet Speaker Bercow’s 2020 deadline.

All industries are now moving online, creating safe and secure digital systems – we can now shop, bank and pay our bills, so why can we not vote?

The UK and online voting: Tech takes the lead

If the UK is falling behind in this respect, other countries are moving forward. If not in government, than in their technology industries.

Moritz Strube, CTO at Polyas, a German online-voting solution that enables users to cast a ballot through a registered account, says his company has ensured the process is “simple and straight-forward for users”.

He told CIO UK: “Regardless of how tech-friendly they are… eligible voters who have used our services were able to cast a vote in two minutes with zero training.”

Polyasenables its users to register for an account which can then create an online identity for the voter. The user of that profile can thereby cast their vote in the election with a click of a button.

Strube continues: “Voters can cast their vote only once and [it] cannot be changed, deleted or added to during their transfer in the network or ballot box. The process of the vote will be then tested by an independent organisation and certified by the German BSI (Federal Office for Information Security).”

The greatest concerns in the UK, however, are protecting the personal details of the registered voters, and preventing fraud.

The UK and online voting: Step-by-step

Sctyl is an electronic voting platform company that says security is its main priority.

Jordi Puiggali, CSO and SVP of research and security at Scytl, believes the UK needs to introduce online voting through a “step-by step” process, in order for the voting channel to be secure.

He continued: security technologies such as “voting receipts, digital signatures and data encryption” have been certified and used in countries such as the US, France and Switzerland.

The company decided to focus on online voting to change the way people vote with Sctyl enabling users to cast a ballot from any location on an internet-connect device.

He stresses that keeping private details and voting preferences of the users remains an issue, with the voting solution making users “digitally sign” the ballot on the internet-connected device. One of the security features Scytl provides is the result cannot be modified. The system can thus prevent anyone, including system administrators, from manipulating the result, Scytl says.

The UK and online voting: How can the UK introduce e-democracy?

Puiggali suggests the UK should “offer pilots not globally but a collective” in e-voting for the UK.

He continues: “Some countries are introducing internet voting as a more democratic process with the online elections having to follow the same principles as any other election does. The most important of these being privacy and secrecy.”