As the world pulls back from e-voting, the UK opts for more pilots

Guest post by Jason Kitcat

Summary: This post summarises the newly announced UK e-voting pilots for 2007 and provides action you can take to help stop the pilots.

On October 17th the Department for Constitutional Affairs and the Electoral Commission officially announced a prospectus for electoral pilots in May 2007. Pilots can include:

* Internet voting * Telephone voting * Polling place electronic voting machines * Electronic counting * Administrative innovations such as early voting

Explicitly excluded are text message voting, digital TV voting and all-postal voting.

Local authorities have been given until 17th November to apply to run a pilot in their area, although it’s clear that at least some authorities were already preparing their applications before the announcement.

This announcement comes at a time when e-voting has been increasingly recognised around the world as a threat to democratic elections. For example:

* The Netherlands has withdrawn e-voting machines by one manufacturer due to vulnerabilities including emitting radio signals which reveal how votes are being cast. The other brand used has been the subject of a widely reported analysis finding multiple major vulnerabilities. more info

* The Canadian province of Quebec has withdrawn all electronic voting machines from elections. This was after a damning report by the province’s chief electoral office into a controversial and problematic election in 2005. more info

* The Republic of Ireland has a moratorium on the use of their e-voting machines after an independent commission found significant problems. more info

* A Japanese municipal authority have shelved e-voting after the result of a 2003 council election was voided. more info

The United States was the first country to make widespread use of voting machines, starting with the lever machines in 1892. Since the 1970s, when electronic machines began to be used, there have been many detailed reports on the fraud, errors and usability problems experienced culminating in the infamous 2000 Presidential election.

Whether allegations can be proved or not, the doubt that electronic voting systems sow in the minds of voters make any outcome open to debate, which ends up undermining our democracy. Because the results are electronic it’s impossible to know what really happened, whether votes were really stored as the voters intended of if they were changed later on.

E-voting makes fraud on an unimaginable scale possible as never before. Electoral fraud is a problem we need to deal with in this country, as recent convictions have shown.

E-voting, unlike e-commerce, is a difficult technical problem where you need to ensure that voters are who they say they are, that they haven’t already voted and can do so secretly. Remote e-voting, from home or work, threatens our secret vote opening electors to vote-buying, peer pressure and threats. E-voting is also incredibly expensive, for a Sheffield pilot the cost was at least £55 per vote cast!

More information about e-voting:

* Communications of the ACM: Special Issue on E-Voting * Jason Kitcat’s e-voting pages * Rebecca Mercuri’s e-voting pages * Louise Ferguson’s e-voting pages * Voting Machines Pro Con (US site but a useful, balanced, overview)

What can we do about it?

There is easy immediate action we can take to stop pilots happening. A pilot will only be approved if a local council applies to take part. So until the application deadline of 17th November we need to ask councillors to get assurances that your council won’t be applying to run an e-voting pilot.

Brighton & Hove and Camden Councils have already ruled out pilots thanks to people contacting their councillors

The areas most likely to apply are those who have already run an e-voting or e-counting pilot so if you live in one of the following areas it’s vital that you take action:

* Basingstoke & Deane Borough Council * Bolton Metropolitan Council * Broxbourne Borough Council * Chester City Council * Chester-le-Street District Council * Chorley Borough Council * Crewe & Nantwich Borough Council * Derwentside District Council * Epping Forest District Council * Ipswich Borough Council * Kerrier District Council * Liverpool City Council * London Borough of Newham * Rugby Borough Council * Rushmoor Borough Council * St Albans City & District * Sheffield City Council * Shrewsbury & Atcham Borough Council * South Tyneside Metropolitan Borough Council * South Oxfordshire District Council * South Somerset District Council * South Tyneside Council * Stratford on Avon District Conucil * Stroud District Council * Swindon Borough Council * Vale Royal Borough Council * Wear Valley District Council * City of Westminster

Contact your councillor via WriteToThem politely asking them to ensure your council doesn’t waste local tax payers’ money on electronic voting pilots. Remember to do it before 17th November!

Please email me the responses you get.

We will be organising an e-voting event in the New Year and will let you know more about that soon.