Electronic voting the only way to protect against fraud, conference told


THE IRISH electorate rejected the idea of electronic voting, but the paper-based system we put our trust in is completely open to fraud and manipulation. Only properly designed systems based on electronics including the encoding and concealment your ballot can offer any chance of security.

Ballot boxes can be stuffed with fake votes and ballot papers can be tampered with, he said. “We have no protection against anything like that. I don’t have any confidence that the system as it stands is secure.” He and colleagues in Birmingham and Luxembourg are currently developing a new electronic or e-voting system that can’t be tricked, will give the voter a receipt, and also a way to confirm his vote was used by checking it over the internet.

The research team were greatly helped in how to design their system by studying the e-voting fiasco in Ireland. “‘The starting point was Ireland and also similar issues in the US, 2004 and 2000, recognising that in these situations you had people complaining their vote was not included in the count,” he said. “What we are trying to do is make electronic voting safe and secure.”

Our own decade-long e-voting saga only ended last May when Minister for the Environment John Gormley finally shut down the project, claiming it would cost €28 million to make the machines suitable for use. This was on top of the almost €52 million purchase price plus a claimed €800,000 per year to store and secure the machines over the period.

A key sticking point for those opposed to e-voting related to not receiving a “receipt” to confirm you got the vote you wanted and also that it was counted. The new design proposed by Dr Heather and his collaborators, named Pret à Voter, provides a receipt that allows a voter to confirm his ballot was unchanged and counted. It would also be infinitely more secure than the e-voting machines Ireland purchased because the system does not rely on computer software to tally votes and so is tamper-proof, he believes.

The voter is given a numbered ballot paper but the order of printed names varies slightly from paper to paper. Once a person has ticked the appropriate boxes the ballot is torn in half along a perforation, separating the names from the ticked boxes so that polling staff cannot guess how a person voted by the positions of the ticks.

The paper also carries a unique bar code and this is fed through a scanner so the votes can be registered. The person then keeps this as a receipt and can check the vote later over the internet by keying in the number on the receipt.