Digital voting: expensive, undemocratic and an inevitable security liability

It’s a debate that keeps coming back up. Sometimes it’s about voting computers; this time it’s about voting from your home using your laptop or smartphone. Voting with a slip of paper and a red pencil is ‘obsolete’, insist the technophiles. But contrary to what they say, the pencil and paper method is still the single safest and cheapest voting method there is.

Regardless, on November the 30th, Mayor Aboutaleb wants Rotterdam residents to vote online, using their account on the governmental identity management platform DigiD, on a referendum about the demolition of rented houses. He claims that he can guarantee ballot secrecy, but won’t answer questions about this.

Contrary to what Aboutaleb says, it’s not actually possible at all to guarantee ballot secrecy if you let citizens vote using the internet. If they vote using their DigiD account, it can be tracked down who voted for what, even though the constitution dictates that that should be kept secret. Of course you can try to design the system in such a way that a vote cannot be traced back to its voter, but it’s impossible to guarantee, or to verify.

Furthermore, it’s likely that cybercriminals are going to create computer viruses that will manipulate people’s votes, or even gain access to the central voting system and untraceably change people’s votes in there. Not to even mention that the costs of the creation and maintenance of such an IT system would undoubtedly turn out to be uncontrollably expensive.

But the main reason why I’m a fan of physical voting booths is still the fact that they leave voters completely in charge of who or what they vote for. If you let people vote from home, they could be coerced or bribed into giving up their DigiD username and password, or to cast their vote this way or that. That’s also why taking photos inside the voting booth (like voting booth selfies) should be outlawed. Voting booth selfies are a way for coerced and bribed voters to prove they cast the vote they were supposed to. Taking photos inside a voting booth is already against the law in Belgium. Anyone who takes a photo of their ballot slip there, like party leader Alexander Pechtold did in the Netherlands during the municipal elections of 2014, can be fined for 3,000 euros. 

So no online voting and no voting booth selfies. But maybe it’s a good idea to put voting computers in the voting booths? No, it isn’t; why would you want that? They’re just gimmicks, they cost 200 million euros to install plus additional costs for maintenance and updates, and they solve no problem whatsoever. We’d still need staff members to be physically present at the polling station. The only thing a voting computer would replace is slips of paper and red pencils, and the only thing online voting would bring us is trouble. 

Of course, politicians too are only human. And it’s in human nature to love fancy gadgets. That’s probably the reason why we’ll be able to vote online soon. Undemocratically, insecurely and against all expert advice. Hopefully they’ll keep the receipt this time.

One response to “Digital voting: expensive, undemocratic and an inevitable security liability”

  1. Remember kids, the NSA is always watching.

    That and everyone else running keylogging malware.

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