As the world becomes increasingly digitized, the voting system is working to catch up.

Last week, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced a new open-source software development kit, in an effort to “modernize all of the election infrastructure everywhere in the world.” ElectionGuard will be available starting this summer, with early prototypes ready to pilot for next year’s general elections.  

The system will enable end-to-end verification of elections, open results to third-party organizations for secure validation, and allow individual voters to confirm their votes were accurately counted. Not intended to replace paper ballots, ElectionGuard aims to supplement and improve the systems that rely on them.

A September 2016 poll of 1,000 Canadians found that 75% of respondents said they would be likely to vote online if the voting method were available. However, security concerns abound, as online voting is said to be more fragile than other online services such as banking, and therefore far easier to attack. Security researchers have pointed to the potential for attackers to modify votes, or even make the web application unavailable to certain voters on polling day.

Canada’s approach

In last month’s PEI election, the province considered online voting, but concluded that there is too much risk of voting fraud.

In the 2015 federal election, only 68 per cent of Canadians voted, leaving about one-third of Canadians who did not cast a ballot. There are several explanations for why Canadians do not vote, such as the time and distance required to travel to a polling station. Voters cited reasons such as such as being ‘too busy’, or ‘out of town’. Will the option of voting online increase voter turnout?

In the 2015 federal election, only 68 per cent of Canadians voted. Will the option of voting online increase voter turnout?

A panel at the 2018 Eastern Workshop questioned: how can we make voting online a reality?

“The world is moving, and we’re seeing integrity issues in the way we process elections,” said Peter Gzowski of Elections Nova Scotia. “The process hasn’t changed in 200 years. And yet the processes aren’t always followed the way they’re supposed to. Introducing technology increases and improves the integrity of the process.”

In Nova Scotia, elections are a really interesting logistics game, he explained. Nova Scotia is the only province without a fixed election date. The last one was in 2017. And with 52 offices staffed with 6000 new people who need to be trained in 72 hours, it had a number of challenges. Gzowski sees e-voting as the future to simplify this process for both management and voters.

Linda Fares is responsible for managing some of that election information, including the private information of 750,000 people. “The essence of an election is where you live.” Currently, Nova Scotia is working on developing software for election management, but it’s a slow go, they both said.

Elections BC was the first to implement an online elector registration system. Both Fares and Gzowski would like to have something similar, but it’s crucial to take small steps when it comes to something as pivotal and accountable as election data.

“There are a lot of challenges to keep your list up to date: keeping track of residence, names, when they pass away,” said Fares. “Everyone sees the future of online voting,” said Gzowski. “As an election administrator, we see a lot of risks around the authentication process and online ID. The impact of hacking on elections in the states for example. We are cautious about that. It’s not accountable enough to jump on board yet for everyone across the province. The integrity of the process will be at risk.”

Gzowski hopes to make voting accessible soon, so people who can’t always get to the polls have a chance to cast their votes. Making e-voting accessible to the military, for example, is something they are working on. In the last Nova Scotia election, only 10/200 military folks made it back in time to cast their votes, he said.

“It needs to evolve to keep up with how we are living our lives now,” said Fares. “Digital interaction is how we live our lives. We should keep in mind the balance and the benefit versus the risk that comes with it.”

For more details on the IdentityNORTH 2018 Eastern Workshop sessions, including “Elections -E-innovation in Democracy,” join our community mailing list to view the full Conference Report, produced with the support and sponsorship of 2Keys.

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