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Online voting might be the future, but we’re nowhere near ready yet

Human hand with a ballot paper. Election Day. Stock vector illus

If there was any doubt about whether the connected era has arrived, new research from Cable.co.uk has confirmed we’re leaving the analogue age behind.

According to a new survey, 42% of non-voters would be more likely to vote if they could do so online. It’s a sign of the times, but one which is also a bit disappointing. Your correspondent remembers the first time he went to vote at the ballots and there was a sense of excitement, a sense of something important. Will that sense of achievement and responsibility be felt through an online voting system?

Exactly 50% of those who were still deciding whether or not to vote said there would be a better chance of them doing so if they could go online to do it. Of those who do not plan to vote, 24% said they would favour Labour, while 16% stated they would be voting for the Tories.

64% of those in the 35-44 age range said an online system would make them more likely to vote, and perhaps surprisingly, the introduction of online voting would make the least impact on 18 to 24 year-olds, with only 31% of all respondents in this age group saying it would make them more likely.

“It seems that if voting were made easier, more of us would do it,” said Dan Howdle of Cable.co.uk. “Makes sense, but it’s nevertheless somewhat shocking that so many with no plans to vote would do so if it saved them a short trip to the nearest polling station. Online voting is almost certainly the future. The key question is whether such a system can be adopted in a way that is beyond the potential interference from hackers.”

Labour losing out is also supported by another bit of research from Captify, which found that Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn was the most searched political leader online in the UK, accounting for 50.27% of all searches. 68.6% of these searches were deemed positive, while Labour was the most searched for party, accounting for 54%.

It seems clear that online is the future, though at a time when accusations of hacking flying all over the place following the US Presidential election last year, one should ask whether now is the right time. During the last election, 30 US states, primarily for voters living overseas or serving in the military, allowed online voting. This was mainly as a needs must situation for military personnel serving abroad, as numerous experts warned of the potential dangers of online voting.

The University of Michigan has also conducted an interesting experiment, albeit back in 2010. A mock election was held by the Board of Elections and Ethics in Washington DC, where third parties were invited to compromise the security of the online voting system. The university team gained near complete control of the election server within 48 hours, revealing almost every secret ballot. The team claim they went undetected for two business days, which would have been longer had the team not intentionally left a clue of their intrusion.

Admittedly, security has come on a long way since 2010, but so have the skills of the hackers. Every security feature is a challenge for this nefarious community, and while it is horrible to admit, there is no such thing as 100% secure. The expanding perimeters of networks mean that weak links in the fence will become bigger and more obvious; security is a constantly evolving game which begs the question as to why it is always an add-on as opposed to a designed-around.

Another big question to ask will be around mobile applications. Could an official voting app be more secure than email or an online form? This would certainly be the next logical step in the connected era, as it is a path which we have seen many times before. Think about mobile banking; with the introduction of biometrics, authentication and identification are no longer issues here, but that doesn’t answer the question of the security of the ballot.

There will be a solution, we just haven’t thought of it yet. WhatsApp is possibly the most secure messaging system around due to the encryption features, which could offer a potential route for any mobile applications.

This would certainly be an ironic turn of events considering the encryption-bashing we have seen from numerous politicians around the world over the last few months, but we shouldn’t be surprised. Politicians have a special way of changing their tune when something works to their own benefit.

So yes, online and mobile applications are certainly the future of voting for an increasingly apathetic population that can’t be bothered to walk down to the polling station to take part in the democratic process. Of course their strident opinions will be loud and proud on social media, but for the moment the connected economy is not right for elections. We’re just not good enough at this internet thing yet.


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