July 5, 2020

The disputed vote of the digital citizen | Trends

The electronic vote had its initial development in the second half of the last century. Simple electromechanical devices were responsible for collecting the marks made on the ballots of the voters to later analyze them and transform them into votes in favor of the candidates. In the 1960s the US government first implemented its use through an optical system that was responsible for the recognition of marks on ballots specially prepared for it. Today, it is still used, but there have been many variants that have been incorporated into the electronic voting process.

Supervised or unattended?

Currently, two types of systems are defined for telematic voting: supervised and unattended. The first is the one that is most developed. To some extent, it is between the true ubiquitous digital environment that defines the Internet and the traditional system of depositing the ballot in person in an urn. Among the different ways of accessing these electronic voting mechanisms are punch cards that are read by a properly prepared device, optical systems that recognize brands through scanner systems, or direct voting terminals through of screens installed in kiosks.

Regarding the second type of voting system, that of the neglected ones, the trend has revolved around Internet voting – which can also be monitored – and that completely delocates the entire voting process, which brings with it the need to incorporate measures additional control, particularly in the identity of the electors.

Defenders and detractors

Those who have defended this type of systems have always stated that it is a model that facilitates accessibility to the right to vote for people, which encourages participation through the reduction of abstention, avoiding the inconvenience of traveling to the place of voting (vote by mail, for example) or that simplifies the complexity of the process by being able to exercise from almost any device. In addition, it operatively reduces the cost, contributes to the rapidity of the counting of results and puts into effect new rights such as the reconsideration of the vote before the closing of the electoral process. Advantages all obvious.

However, there are also detractors who advocate highlighting the risks that these types of systems imply when it comes to talking about in terms of reliability. Especially, as for cybersecurity, to the difficulty / complexity to detect errors, to the manipulation of the intentions of the voter when he exercises his right remotely and unattended, or to the probability that they present suffer failures that are unrecoverable.

Cybersecurity Considerations

And, at the end of the day, the challenges facing a telematic voting system are to guarantee the free and secret vote of the people as well as allowing the voter to verify the fidelity of the results. It is precisely in these two aspects that the development of technology must influence. A technology that must ensure the security of the voting process, the counting of votes and the publication of the results.

The electronic voting process itself has some particular characteristics that require a certain degree of attention. For example, the verification of the identity of the voter. Normally, the electronic DNI or the combination of personal data with usernames and keywords must be used for identification, although without physical identity authentication devices, it is more than certain that the system will be less reliable.

Another important aspect is the segregation of the voter's identity vote, in order to maintain anonymity in the election, although guaranteeing that the vote is duly counted. One of the most used mechanisms is the issuance of a duly encrypted electronic voucher that serves as a voting certificate. There are also less obvious elements, such as the provision of mechanisms that prevent people other than digital natives they may be discouraged to exercise their right, or even more subtle aspects, such as showing the voter all possible options in a single glance – through a friendly, clear and balanced system – without having to advance on one page or have than changing the screen, which would generate inequalities in the treatment of some options over others.

The cyber supervision of process

But not only the electronic voting process presents singularities. The supervision of this process also requires innovative control mechanisms with respect to traditional procedures. The supervision of an electoral process involves the participation of many people among members of the government, of the Central Electoral Board or of political parties – their committees – who check the votes of the electors.

It should be taken into account that the process preparation itself, with its computer equipment and applications, requires supervision that begins with the selection of the technology to be used and continues with the installation and configuration of the equipment or the generation and control of the encryption keys to be used during voting. Such control can reach – and sometimes has been raised – the analysis of the source code of the applications to be used, hence some advocate using open source tools.

Whatever the case, what is relevant to this situation is that the profile of the supervisor of the process can be significantly modified by requiring unusual knowledge about cybersecurity in the vast majority of citizens.

Property and Costs

Once these difficulties have been overcome, the cost of implementing the system will remain. Much has been discussed about who should own the solution and if it could come from private entities. The most traditional voting systems are controlled and managed by the Central Electoral Boards that are responsible for ensuring the consistency and integrity of the process and its results. In a telematic voting model, the choice of use technology becomes a key part of the entire process that affects the reliability of the system. Thus, the debate over their property is not trivial.

It is also important to take into account the cost of electronic voting. According to some studies in countries like Australia, Estonia, Canada or even the United States the cost of a global telematic voting system – including hardware and software, voter database updates, system adjustments, certification audits and operational costs – could be around five euros per voter, On the other hand, it would not clash with the current costs it has in a country like Spain, for example.

Pilot tests and extended uses

There are many state who have evaluated or even implemented the use of electronic voting in their electoral processes. In Europe, countries like Switzerland, Norway, Germany, Holland or Estonia They have already carried out pilot experiences with uneven results. At the moment, only the Baltic country has come to implement it in a general way while the rest has rejected it for various reasons, including certain controversies about its constitutionality. Recently, this year, Russia was experiencing with the use of telematic voting in pilot tests (. On the other side of the Atlantic, Canada, U.S, Brazil or Venezuela they have been using it for some years, although limited to supervised systems with teams in the voting centers. Too India has followed the same path.

And in Spain, what?

About Spain can only say that such a possibility was ruled out in 2017 for fear, precisely, of the cybersecurity problems that it could bring. Whatever the case, there is currently no standardized regulation that can serve as a basis for all countries that want to use the telematic vote.

Some organisms like the Council of Europe(19) wave International IDEA They have promoted some documents that include the requirements that a telematic voting system must meet for its implementation. Even so, they would require legislative adaptations that each country should validate in coordination with its Central Electoral Office; adaptations that should make the regulations a sufficiently flexible framework to adjust to changes and technological developments – for example, the blockchain– which will occur in the future. Regulations, in short, that would be responsible for guaranteeing the universality, equality, freedom and privacy of telematic suffrage, whether direct or indirect.

Juanjo Galán is responsible for Business Strategy of All4Sec

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