Thursday, August 9, 2012

Internet Voting in BC? Estonia shows us the way!

Today it was announced that BC would be looking at internet voting and see if it might be an option here.   There is one jurisdiction that has used internet voting since 2005 - Estonia.  The Estonians call it "I-voting".   The Estonians have the experience to show us here in BC how to conduct internet voting and I hope the panel set up by elections BC has at least on representative from the Estonian Electoral Commission.

Estonia has used internet voting for the last five elections and an increasing number of people are using the internet to vote with the 2011 parliamentary elections seeing almost one in four people vote via the internet.

Election                I-votes   % of total vote
2005 Local elections       9,287     1.85%
2007 Parliament election  30,275     5.45%
2009 European Parliament  58,669    14.70%
2009 Local elections     104,313    15.74%
2011 Parliament election 140,846    24.27%

I know most of you likely know nothing about Estonia, so here is a quick run down of the country:

  • Estonia is a country about the size of Vancouver Island with a population of about 1,300,000 people.  
  • It is located on the Baltic Sea south of Finland, west of Russia and north of Latvia.   
  • It became independent in 1918 but then was occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940, Germany from 1941 to 1944, and then the Soviet Union again from 1944 to 1991.
  • It is a technologically advanced country with an average of 1.5 mobile phones per person and many strong innovative software firms.   By 2015 everyone in the country will have access to wideband internet with two way data transmission of 100Mbits at the bottom end to 2.5Gbits at the top end, most people will get the top end speed which is 7 to 25 times faster than the broadband we have here in Victoria.

How It Works:
You need to download an app for the Vabariigi Valimiskomisjon.  This app encrypts the vote effectively making it a sealed envelope.   The voter then attaches their digital signature to the encrypted data.   After the polls close on election day the encrypted files are separated from the digital signature and counted.

You can use I-voting from the 10th day to the 4th day prior to the general election day.   You can vote multiple times but only your last vote is counted.  When you vote again you erase your previous vote.   You can still go to the polling both on election day and cast a ballot which then erases you I-vote.

In Estonia everyone in the country has a government issued ID card which comes with two PIN codes.   You need a smart card reader attached to your computer.   You insert your ID card into the smart card reader which allows you to download the app.  You then enter your first PIN and you get your candidates you can vote, you then vote.   This encrypted data is then connected to your digital signature which you confirm through your second PIN.

Is it safe?
In 2007 Estonia was the target of the first and most serious international cyber attack against a government.   The attacks originated in Russia but Russia has denied being formally responsible for them.   The voting system was not compromised.  Even though there have been various active campaigns by Russia to overtly and covertly influence Estonia, since 2007 there have been no examples of any breech of security in the system.

Instead of spending a lot of time talking, BC should simply hire the Estonians to set up the system here, though that would have to be for the 2017 election.


The Pundits' Guide said...

The issue will be the electronic ID card, a national system that's implemented in Estonia for every transaction with government, and which allows tracking all manner of things against the unique ID of that citizen.

This would not be possible under Canadian privacy laws, I don't think, and would undoubtedly be unacceptable to many/most Canadians.

You couldn't implement e-voting without the e-card, and that would be a long expensive process to implement, and would probably fall under federal jurisdiction.

I attended an Elections Canada-sponsored seminar about this at Carleton U a few years back. No-one I know who is at all technically knowledgeable is in favour of internet voting in Canada. It is just too susceptible to manipulation, and the measures taken in Estonia to try and avoid that go far too far for our views on privacy.

Anonymous said...

iVoting is doomed to hackery.

Anonymous said...

If electronic voting machines in a closed loop are not safe: How can you vouch for iVoting?