Why electronic voting is still a bad idea: Tom Scott

The recent Russia Report from the Intelligence and Security Committee highlights how the dispersed, paper-based nature of voting in the UK protects it from foreign cyber-interference.

It’s a reminder of one of the major downsides of online voting. A little while back, Tom Scott nicely summarised the powerful arguments against electronic voting for public elections* in a video. Given his own expertise, it also makes the point that the problems with electronic voting look worse the more you really know about how computers and security work.

With the Russia Report having made such issues timely once more, here is his video again:

For more on the topic, see my post from back in 2013: “E-voting coming back to life?“.

* I say “public elections” because the smaller an electorate is, the more private the organisation it is for, the fewer the problems if the wrong people are elected and the easier it is to re-run an election weeks or months afterwards without causing chaos, the more attractive it can be to bank cost savings from electronic voting compared with its risks and insecurities.

15 responses to “Why electronic voting is still a bad idea: Tom Scott”

  1. Bringing poll cards to the polling station does help the poll clerk, particularly if the voter has a speech problem..
    But it could be easily turned into a simple encouragement to vote in person. If poll cards were all put into a tombola drum(by those who wanted to play) a card could be pulled out a 10pm at each polling station and a prize of say £50. That could have a disproportionately encouraging effect on the lower paid to attend and vote, no bad thing.
    It could remain the case, for the reasons Anne gives, that you don’t need your card in order to vote.

    • MPs voting electronicly in parliament is a good idea precisely because MPs votes are not secret. Any MP can see if their vote has been tampered, because all of us can see how they voted. If it was secret, it certainly shouldn’t be electronic!

  2. the only electronic voting that could be a good idea is for MPs to have an electronic vote, instead of the time wasting trooping into the division lobbies and ‘lock the doors’ nonsense.
    Then their votes could be secret and they could each vote with their conscience instead of being directed by the whips and the leaders.. we might then be nearer to a ‘representative democracy’.
    I don’t need a public record of how my MP voted, he always does as he is told.. – in words from his own mouth he ‘represents’ his party, not his constituents.

  3. “Then their votes could be secret and they could each vote with their conscience instead of being directed by the whips and the leaders.. we might then be nearer to a ‘representative democracy’.”
    No, absolutely not. We would then be nearer to a completely unaccountable oligarchy. Each MP can vote how he/she likes and tell the voter what they want to hear. Inevitably someone will count up how every MP claims to have voted on a controversial issue and be able to prove that someone is lying – “400 MPs claim to have voted against increasing tuition fees but the records show it passed by 320 to 300”, for example – but no one will know *who* is lying. Result: an unpopular policy can be passed without consequences for those responsible, meanwhile trust in politicians, already extremely low, goes through the floor.
    In short: it’s a terrible idea, Peter! By all means have electronic voting for MPs to save all the flummery and time-wasting, but with each MP’s publicly recorded as it is now.

    • but how do you stop the immoral arm twisting and outright blackmail of the whips. The majority were against Article 50, but the majority voted for it. To agree with the principle of the vote being public we need to make coercion illegal.

  4. Electronic voting is simple – as long as it is not remote voting.
    Go into the station. Vote on a machine. It shows you what you have voted and you confirm.
    Do not have it connected to the internet.
    When polls close connect to wifi And send encrypted results to Returning Officer for compilation OR take the data by hand to a central area where it is connected and the votes tallied so everyone knows by 10.30 latest.

    If you want to be ultra safe after voting then the machine prints out a slip of paper with the name of the person they have voted for which is then confirmed by the voter. The ballot goes into a box the vote recorded.

    Preliminary results are instantaneous at 10 pm with results confirmed by counting the paper ballots the next day.

    There are many ways voting and counting could be made simpler with a little thought and still safeguard the system.

  5. nothing simpler than a stubby pencil in a polling booth. If you want to make the counting swifter then use an electric counting machine, like they use at the bank for counting the notes..

  6. One issue is how you protect on-line electronic data during and after the vote. Someone with administrator privileges may have access to the data; either by intention or hacking. During the day it could be possible to track the voting pattern, after the event it may not be secret. It would be interesting to see how these problems could / would be designed out of the system.
    A semi-automated system could make it more efficient – hanging chads permitting.

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