back to article E-voting and the UK election: Pick a lizard, any lizard

On Thursday May 7, the UK goes to the polls for a General Election. For those from elsewhere, we use the First Past the Post voting system, with each MP representing a specific geographical constituency. So, a majority of one is enough to win a seat, and the party leader who can command a majority of votes in the House of …

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  1. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

    Please, no e-voting!

    a) it cannot be trusted - hacking or deliberate manipulation are far too easy. Physical ballot papers, where the issue of each ballot is recorded, and the ballot box is escorted by the police from the polling station to the count, and independent observers can see the votes being tallied, is much much harder to fiddle.

    b) if someone can't be bothered to devote 15 mins to visit the polling station (or even 2 mins to fill in a postal ballot) should they really be entitled to have any say in the government of the country? Rights and rewsponsibilities are balanced by duties.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Please, no e-voting!

      "Physical ballot papers ... is much much harder to fiddle."

      Hmm the recent issue in Tower Hamlets would suggest otherwise, That also took a dedicated campaign a year to raise a civil case, which may have bankrupted them, to get the result looked in to and the result overturned

      1. FlatSpot
        FAIL

        Re: Please, no e-voting!

        Not correct at all, having the physical ballot papers enabled hand writing analysis to determine that they were filled in with a high degree of certainty by the same hand.

        1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

          Re: Please, no e-voting!

          "

          Not correct at all, having the physical ballot papers enabled hand writing analysis to determine that they were filled in with a high degree of certainty by the same hand.

          "

          And online voting would enable it to be even more easily *and automatically* determined if a lot of votes were cast from the same IP address with 100% certainty. Which would make the detection of such fraud possible on the fly. Anyone who makes lots of fraudulent online votes in other people's names would have the problem of needing to appear to vote from many different IP addresses.

          1. Mephistro Silver badge

            Re: Please, no e-voting! (@ Cynic_999)

            "And online voting would enable it to be even more easily *and automatically* determined if a lot of votes were cast from the same IP address with 100% certainty."

            Yep, except for public libraries, student residences, homes for the elderly, hospitals, shared networks, mobile data networks and the whatnot.

            The easiest way to perpetrate this would be, IMO, using the victim's own mobile phones. If a PC is mandatory for voting, then you can take the victims to some workshop or pub with the baddies and a laptop with a 3g data connection. Depending on whether the network sends your true IP to the rest of the world or not, you may need to reset each connection after a few votes each time so as to change the IP or use an app to change your mac and/or reconnect.

            The baddies keep the voters with them until 22:00, probably inviting them to some drinks and food to sweeten the wait. Even a stripper or two. Profit!

            This method doesn't seem much more difficult or risky than the one in the Hamlet Towers voting fraud.(i.e. sending menacing mobs to the polling stations).

            And a safer variant of this method could be used for buying votes. "Here's three hundred quid in exchange for your vote. You are also invited to a party with free booze, food and strippers!" It probably would be also cheaper in the end, as you don't need so much 'security staff".

            But this discussion is quite futile. The worst part of e-voting is what could be done behind the scenes with the votes, without anyone being the wiser.

            1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

              Re: Please, no e-voting! (@ Cynic_999)

              "

              But this discussion is quite futile. The worst part of e-voting is what could be done behind the scenes with the votes, without anyone being the wiser.

              "

              Far less than what could be done behind the scenes with a ballot box full of paper votes.

              1. Richard 12 Silver badge

                Re: Please, no e-voting! (@ Cynic_999)

                No. It is much easier to lose or change the contents of an electronic ballot box than the contents of a physical one.

                While it is relatively easy to 'lose' a physical ballot box, it leaves a physical trail that must also be hidden - 3rd party observers saw it, and every individual ballot paper has to be accounted for.

                An electronic 'ballot box' has a no physical trail, only a small amount of data describes its existence - all one would need is the signature, and poof, the entire box is gone or rewritten for the Lizard Party.

                The 3rd party observers would have no way of seeing this, and no evidence would exist outside the system itself to indicate that a large-scale fraud had occurred.

              2. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Please, no e-voting! (@ Cynic_999)

                "Far less than what could be done behind the scenes with a ballot box full of paper votes."

                One of the popular attack methods with e-voting is to preset the vote count with a negative number for the candidate you want to lose, and then let the real voters in. You can achieve the same effect with paper but the electronic one is less obvious. Whether that's a good thing or not depends....

      2. Mage Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: Please, no e-voting!

        With eVoting there might have been no trace or evidence of fiddling. With paper the evidence existed!

        1. viscount

          Re: Please, no e-voting!

          Totally agree: the issues in Tower Hamlets were real but they were not caused by in-person voting; in fact it helped to prove there was a problem. Think how much easier it would be to cover-up undue influence if the person you are influencing is clicking a box on a screen in their own home somewhere.

          1. Nigel Whitfield.

            Re: Please, no e-voting!

            That, in theory, is one of the reasons why in Estonia you can vote multiple times (and even replace your vote at the polling booth).

            You might have someone standing over you, forcing you to vote one way, but as long as you can get back to the computer, or to the polling booth, later on, you can make your real choice known.

            However, it's still imperfect - someone could easily force everyone to e-vote right at the end of the allowable period, and make sure they don't get to the polling station on the day.

            1. Gordon 10 Silver badge

              Re: Please, no e-voting!

              But having to do everything last minute scales the manpower requirements beyond the reach of everyone but the most scary and deep-pocketed candidate.

            2. Cynic_999 Silver badge

              Re: Please, no e-voting!

              "

              However, it's still imperfect - someone could easily force everyone to e-vote right at the end of the allowable period, and make sure they don't get to the polling station on the day.

              "

              Physically coerced votes are really not a serious enough problem to worry about in the UK. Sure, it may happen in a few isolated cases, but it would not really be possible for a single person to coerce enough voters to influence the outcome of the election. It becomes a problem in other countries where voters can be given a credible threat that they will be killed if they do not vote in a certain way - but that applies even more to voting in a polling station than it does voting via computer.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Please, no e-voting!

            "Think how much easier it would be to cover-up undue influence if the person you are influencing is clicking a box on a screen in their own home somewhere."

            Easier than making them tick a certain box on a postal ballot when they only have once chance to vote, rather than multiple goes to correct it?

        2. Banksy

          Re: Please, no e-voting!

          Not heard of audit trails or encryption then?

    2. Cynic_999 Silver badge

      Re: Please, no e-voting!

      I don't see why a system for e-voting cannot be at least as secure as an online banking system - in fact it only has to perform one task and a single transaction per customer, and so could easily be designed to be far more secure. While online banking fraud does happen, it is an insignificant fraction of bank transactions that are fraudulent (otherwise banks could not afford to have it), and a similar percentage of fraudulent votes is hardly likely to affect the outcome of an election. An electronic "paper trail" could be made far more watertight than ballot papers provide, and what's more it could trivially be arranged that voters could check what vote was recorded for them at any time after they have voted (while at the same time not allowing anyone else, including the authorities to see how another person has voted), or even for a running tally of votes to be shown to the public as votes are received (which may prompt people to vote who otherwise would not have bothered).

      1. tony2heads

        @Cynic_999

        If you want it secure go for two-factor authentication

        If you want people to get involved add an option 'none of the above'

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          none of the above

          Is that an option where voting is mandatory? - like Australia (I believe)

          Or "spoil vote" ...

          Otherwise I'd feel cheated.

        2. Omgwtfbbqtime Silver badge

          Re: 'none of the above'

          Vote for RON!

          Re

          Open

          Nominations.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Please, no e-voting!

      or even 2 mins to fill in a postal ballot

      Postal votes are the easiest way to fiddle the results and should be banned with a few very well defined exceptions - British forces stationed overseas and those people that are in hospital/ care homes come to mind as the main exceptions.

    4. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: Please, no e-voting!

      re: b) It might only be a 15 minute walk to a polling station in most towns, but in the countryside it can easily be three to four times that, and/or require a car.

      Not to mention that a fifteen minute walk for you or I can be much more difficult for some people.

      1. Nigel Whitfield.

        Re: Please, no e-voting!

        @phuzz

        That's very true - and it's potentially a big problem. It's one that eVoting could solve, if it was universal (eg a free terminal, and decent rural connectivity), but if that's not solved first, it potentially makes matters worse, not better, by creating a large differential skew in turnout between areas.

        There are still plenty of locations with rubbish broadband, mobile not-spots, and the like, and rural poverty. A situation where some people can vote easily online while others are in the situation you describe, of needing transport and a long trip exacerbates unfairness.

        This is very much one of those areas where - even if you could solve the core technology problems of e-voting - you still have to address other areas that touch on it, like universal broadband provision, and identity card, if it's to be a fair system

    5. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Please, no e-voting!

      "if someone can't be bothered"

      Choosing not to vote is something one is allowed to do in a free country. It may be that they just can't be bothered or it may be that they don't see a viable selection of candidates.

      Probably the most exasperating exhortations I hear with regard to voting is women shrilling about suffragettes and how it's every womens duty to vote. Not, it isn't. They fought for the right to vote, not make it compulsory. Choice is choice and everyone now has a right to choose. If it's "none of the above" then that's fine by me, whatever the individuals method of demonstrating that choice is.

  2. Badvok
    Meh

    National Identity Card

    While I personally can't see why a National ID Card is such a problem, since most of us carry one in the form of a driving license anyway, it has been shown that Joe Public really dislikes the idea and therefore e-voting will never happen.

    1. James 51 Silver badge

      Re: National Identity Card

      It's the privacy busting databases that go with them that put a lot of people off.

      1. John Lilburne Silver badge

        Re: National Identity Card

        No it was more a question of good old bloody mindedness. The government wants it, therefore we don't. The privacy busting is already there, but we don't seem to mind that.

        1. James 51 Silver badge

          Re: National Identity Card

          In theory the privacy busting is there when you join the existing databases up or ignore safeguards so you don't technically need a new database but it would have helped.

        2. Cynic_999 Silver badge

          Re: National Identity Card

          "

          No it was more a question of good old bloody mindedness. The government wants it, therefore we don't. The privacy busting is already there, but we don't seem to mind that.

          "

          Not at all (in my case at least). If everyone has to have an ID card by law, you can bet your socks that very soon it will be necessary to use that card for all sorts of services and situations. Each time it is demanded to be shown it will be scanned and the transaction or situation recorded in a single database. This will allow the government to track very small details of your life and run algorithms to determine whether you have a "suspicious lifestyle" or to flag you as a suspect in whatever new laws they may dream up in future. Plus probably getting a nice kickback by selling such information for marketing purposes.

    2. Dr. Mouse Silver badge

      Re: National Identity Card

      While I personally can't see why a National ID Card is such a problem, since most of us carry one in the form of a driving license anyway

      IIRC the main objections to it were

      a) The incredible amount of data stored in the database

      b) The fact that everyone would be required to have one, and pay for it

      c) It wasn't that useful for most people

      Point a could be solved by only storing the minimal amount of data in the central database to verify identity. Point b could be solved by not making it mandatory, although this would reduce it's effectiveness to the govt, and/or by issuing them for free, paid by general taxation.

      Point c is the interesting one to me. If the ID card could be used for more things, it would be more useful. It would be the ideal place to implement electronic cash. It could be used with a card reader for logins/form filling etc. It could be used to store membership info to clubs, bank card details so you only need one card, all sorts of things. Having one would then simplify peoples lives, and it would be more popular.

      In short, I could see government issued ID cards being of great benefit, but not in the form they were presented.

      1. Nigel Whitfield.

        Re: National Identity Card

        Point C is where the Estonia system probably helps quite a lot. You can use the card to sign an electronic document in a legally binding way, for example. That's in itself is something many people might find very useful.

        A unique card could also be used to allow access to a third party PKI infrastructure, allowing people to encrypt communications in a way that's verifiable, and pretty secure, too.

        On point b, there's also a difference between mandatory issuing and mandatory carrying. The former is ok, I think - though you probably shouldn't have to pay for it - but I'm very strongly against mandatory carrying. That, to many people, would be a big change for the UK. Despite claims that some of the claimed reasons for introducing a card ("terrorism!") will be useless without mandatory carrying, they'll not be much better with.

        And, mandatory carry works only when there's a penalty for not doing so. Just as there are people who have been stopped dozens of times for no reason, there will be some who'll still be stopped, until the day they've forgotten their ID card, and can finally be nicked for something.

        1. Throatwobbler Mangrove

          Re: National Identity Card

          "You can use the card to sign an electronic document in a legally binding way, for example. That's in itself is something many people might find very useful."

          Not really in Britain, it's not. Documents "signed" by email or using e-signatures are already legally binding (in almost all cases - there are certainly some exceptions).

          I don't know anything about Estonian law but I assume (!) it's a civil law country in which notaries public are used to record/formalise contracts, leases etc fairly regularly. If the electronic ID card replaces that need and they already have a mandatory ID card system - well, great, I suppose.

          But in the UK, ID cards and electronic voting are solutions looking for a problem. We got on fine without them. Paper voting is cheap, easy and works pretty well. It's no surprise that the biggest proponents are like Malloch-Brown, who sells the machines!

          1. Nigel Whitfield.

            Re: National Identity Card

            Well, yes, they are legal in the UK. It's just that lacking any centralised system, we don't have any common way of doing these things. When I leased a computer some years ago, I had documents sent to me using a system called "EchoSign", which I'd never come across before. Other firms use different solutions. By far the most common way of consenting to the loan of a piece of review kit is still for the PR people to email me a document with a request that I sign it and fax it back!

            So, while there may be ways of e-signing that are recognised in the UK, they're all relatively rare, as far as end users are concerned. By having a common system, with software freely available for most computers, based on a card that everyone has, you can encourage take-up of such things rather better than we have done here, I'd venture.

    3. Captain Mainwaring

      Re: National Identity Card

      I agree with the idea that people should be required to produce official photo ID to vote in an election. But spend billions on rolling out an ID card scheme, why? With about 85% of the population already having either a passport, driving licence or both, I would have thought there is already enough official ID about to do the job.

      1. Nigel Whitfield.

        Re: National Identity Card

        That still leaves 15% without.

        One of my friends, for instance, a working class lad from Hackney, couldn't drive, nor had he ever been abroad. Consequently, he had no passport, nor need for one, and no need for a driving licence.

        A passport now is £72.50 for your first one. A provisional driving licence is £34, assuming you can apply online. You'll need a passport or a birth certificate. If you don't have one of the latter, then that's an additional £9.25. And it's £43 to get a driving licence by post.

        You'll also need the photos, of course, which is likely to set you back another fiver from a photo booth machine.

        Even assuming someone does have a birth certificate they can find, you're looking at almost £40 to get the ID that they'll only need to vote. In the worst case, if they don't have a computer to use, and need to get a copy certificate you're looking at a little under £57.

        It's easy to look at things like this and think "well, that's not so much," or "I'd spend more than that on a decent dinner" but there really are people who don't drive, and don't have passports and - above all - don't have £40 to spare. But they're still entitled to vote, because we have a universal franchise.

        If you're going to require ID to take part in that, it absolutely must be provided free of charge, in my view.

        You could do that - as I believe some US states do - by having a specific ID document for people who fall into that 15% who have neither driving licence nor passport. However, while that may be acceptable for voting, there are issues around the more general use of such documents. Essentially, if there's a "poor person's" ID, and other sorts of ID, and you start to allow them to be used in other situations (eg bars checking credentials, say) then you potentially open the way to discrimination.

    4. Cynic_999 Silver badge

      Re: National Identity Card

      "

      While I personally can't see why a National ID Card is such a problem, since most of us carry one in the form of a driving license anyway, it has been shown that Joe Public really dislikes the idea and therefore e-voting will never happen.

      "

      There is no more (or less) need to have a National ID card to vote electronically than there is to vote by paper slip, and I do not understand why you think that there is. I could visit a polling station 5 times and cast a vote each time using a different name and address just as easily (or not) as I could do so from a computer keyboard.

      1. Nigel Whitfield.

        Re: National Identity Card

        I suppose the feeling is that to do so on a large scale would require considerable effort - polling stations have a list of voters and would notice if the same name was used, or the same person came in several times. You could impersonate someone at multiple stations, but you'd be running around a lot.

        Online, that can potentially be much easier.

        In the absence of ID cards, I suppose each polling card could have a unique code which can only be used once, to sign in to the polling website.

    5. Mycho Silver badge

      Re: National Identity Card

      More than anything it was the intent (confirmed at the time) that it would be illegal to go out without your wallet. Secondly was certain politicians insisting that despite this, no police officer would ever stoop so low as to exploit a law that allowed them to arrest a burglary victim for having their ID card stolen.

      This was, you'll remember, before they started arresting photographers for being too tall.

  3. James 51 Silver badge

    Digital voting systems can be made to work. It's all about putting enough resources in and maintaining them properly (and if you won with the old system, why would you bother?). However to raise engagement changing first past the post and broader political reforms and changes would be a better idea.

    1. Nigel Whitfield.

      The resourcing and the maintaining of a system are the aspects that would worry me most. We do tend to penny pinch a lot here. Only yesterday it was reported that the Met still has a ton of Windows XP machines ans it trying to arrange with MS to get at least another year of support, rather than actually replace them.

      Given the understanding of tech in government, I suspect voting machines would end up in the same sorry state as Virginia. Or we'd get the situation I suggested where, in order to 'save money' that could be spent on the electronic system, some polling stations would be closed.

      Or perhaps someone would come up with the bright idea of sponsoring them. After all, if roundabouts can be sponsored to raise money for local authorities, why not voting machines? Imagine having to sit through "a word from our sponsor" before you actually get to the screen where you can vote.

      1. James 51 Silver badge

        Me too. Imagine a DDOS on election day. A bigger concern might be if you were afraid your vote could be identified. Vote for the right result or some little green men might come knocking on your door.

        1. Cliff

          Minitel equivalent

          We'll all have smart meters by the 2020 elections, so piggyback that secure and uncontroversial network - leave one light on all day for Labour, electric fire all day for conservatives, solar power chargeback for Green, etc.

          Find fault with that, I challenge you ;-)

  4. Phil W

    I come in peace. Take me to your Lizard.

  5. FlatSpot

    It's not broken don't fix it

    We need proportional representation not e-voting and postal fraud.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It's not broken don't fix it

      "We need proportional representation not e-voting and postal fraud."

      Got it in one.

      Then perhaps we can move on towards picking politicians who are worthy of their voters trust, politicians who represent their electorate, etc.

      E-voting is at best a distraction from the real issues that have split politicians from people, and in many ways evoting is worse than the current paper voting system.

      Meantime, if you can't find a candidate worth voting for, why not go to the voting booth anyway and write in None Of The Above.

      Typically half the electorate (give or take) don't vote. If half these people turned up and wrote in None Of The Above, in large friendly felt-tip-pen letters, it might be hard to hide.

      Vote early, vote often.

      1. MrXavia

        Re: It's not broken don't fix it

        "if you can't find a candidate worth voting for, why not go to the voting booth anyway and write in None Of The Above."

        None Of The Above would certainly get a massive vote if we did that...

        Trying to find a party worth voting for is impossible...

        Even finding the best of a bad bunch is hard...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It's not broken don't fix it

      "We need proportional representation not e-voting and postal fraud."

      We were offered it. We said no. I suppose we could adopt the EU approach and keep voting until we get the "right" answer.

      Or the losers could accept that we had a democratic vote. Which went the other way. And decided to stay with the current system. Possibly for reasons of bloody-mindedness , possibly not.

      1. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

        Re: It's not broken don't fix it

        We were NOT offered PR, at least not in any meaningful sense of the term. Additional Vote is window dressing for keeping First-past-the-post, and electing a least worst candidate.

        Real PR is single transferable vote in multi-member constituencies, which introduces reasonable proportonality whilst retaining a link between MPs and a constituency, albeit a larger one. It's not perfect but it's much much better than what we have now.

        1. Richard 12 Silver badge

          Re: It's not broken don't fix it

          I'd love STV with something like 3-4 member constituencies.

          Then I'd be able to take my issue to whichever of the members I thought was most likely to help on that particular thing.

          The current One-Member system has the fundamental problem that if my Member is a Minister, or even worse, the Speaker, I'm stuffed.

          The Minister must back the Cabinet due to Collective Responsibility, and the Speaker isn't allowed to express their opinion.

  6. Mage Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Plenty, though, were disillusioned with politics

    This is the issue. Not the ease of voting or speed of counting.

    The eVoting is pointless and no matter how secure can be "edited" by those with the keys. Yes, paper systems can be "stuffed" and "gamed" too, but it's very much harder.

    Digital for the sake of being Digital is foolish and is simply "fashion".

    1. theOtherJT

      Re: Plenty, though, were disillusioned with politics

      Absolutely. I look at the candidates available to me in the constituency where I live and despair.

      I'm one of the lucky ones. My vote will count - sort of. This is a marginal seat and changes hands often, but only between 2 parties I don't particularly care for. I do get the opportunity to vote against someone I really don't like, but not for someone I do.

      There's a simple reason for that. The "someone I do" doesn't exist. There isn't a political party anywhere on the UK radar that I believe actually represents the interests of me and mine, and I have to believe that's going to be the same for a lot of Reg readers.

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