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Conversations 8: E-voting with Dr Vanessa Teague

Vanessa TeagueWith Western Australia’s senate election result in doubt, thanks in part to 1375 completed ballot papers going missing, electronic voting is being discussed once more. But e-voting isn’t the magic solution some think it is.

“There isn’t a secure solution for voting over the internet. There isn’t a good way of authenticating voters, that is, making sure that the person at the other end of the connection is the eligible voter they say they are. There isn’t an easy, usable way of helping voters to make sure that the vote they send is the vote they wanted, even if their PC is infected with malware or administered by somebody who wants to vote differently,” says Dr Vanessa Teague from the University of Melbourne, who studies the cryptographic protocols used be electronic voting systems.

“And although there are some techniques for providing evidence that encrypted votes have been properly decrypted and tallied, it’s hard to scale those techniques to large Australian elections.”

Teague’s presentation at the Ruxcon security conference, “Electronic Voting Security, Privacy and Verifiability”, blew holes in the idea that any currently-available electronic voting system can do a better job than pencil and paper — and the audience tended to agree.

Teague asked her audience of some 300 to 400 hackers whether they thought internet voting would be a good idea. Maybe two hands went up. A bad idea? Pretty much every other hand was raised immediately. And that was before they heard her presentation.

“We have to be careful that the computers cast the vote that the voter actually intended to cast, and we have to make sure there’s evidence that all of the votes are properly recorded and transmitted and tallied,” she says.

This interview was recorded on 27 October 2013 in Melbourne, Australia.

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Episode Notes

  1. Dr Vanessa Teague’s home page.
  2. Australian Electoral Commission apologises for lost senate votes, ABC Radio National Breakfast, 4 November 2013.
  3. Malcolm Turnbull suggests electronic voting to reduce number of informal ballots, ABC News, 10 September 2013.
  4. My article, Say no to e-voting: defending the pencils of democracy, Crikey, 12 September 2013.
  5. My article, Electronic voting a threat to democracy, ABC The Drum, 30 March 2011. Both this and the previous article have links to further material.
  6. Parliamentary Library background paper, e-voting: the promise and the practice, 12 October 2012.
  7. Helios voting system.
  8. Vote early, vote often: Inside Norway’s pioneering open source e-voting trials, ZDNet, 13 September 2013.
  9. Inquiry into the Conduct of the 2010 Victorian State Election, Parliament of Victoria.
  10. iVote, used for the 2011 state election in New South Wales.
  11. [Update 5 November 2013: Further references added.] The Electoral Council of Australia and New Zealand (ECANZ) research report on Internet Voting in Australian Election Systems.
  12. Electronic Voting Debacle: American democracy at stake, no less, The Register, 18 November 2003.
  13. Wikipedia entry on Sequoia Voting Systems controversies.
  14. Wikipedia entry on Diebold Election Systems controversies.
  15. Wikipedia entry for Clint Curtis, whistleblower on an alleged scheme to defraud US voting systems.
  16. Daniel Horn’s 2004 competition for computer code that looked like it tallied votes properly but secretly defrauded the election.
  17. A Patch Monday podcast from 15 March 2010 in which Jan Meier, a Norwegian digital identity specialist who worked on the Netherlands’ first large-scale internet-based election, said, “I would say that the only system that really lives up to the expectations of transparency and anonymity, that is really the old paper analogue system.”

[Photo: Original photo of Dr Vanessa Teague courtesy of the University of Melbourne. Digital manipulation by Stilgherrian, available for re-use under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs license (CC BY-ND).]

Corrupted Nerds coverage of Breakpoint and Ruxcon was made possible by Extra Special Supporters Adam Thomas, Justin Warren, Andrew Zammit, Sean Richmond, Cunning S7Unt, Peter Williams; Special Supporters Christopher Neal, Glen Roberts, Johan de Wit; and many others.

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Conversations 8: Electronic voting with Dr Vanessa Teague by Corrupted Nerds is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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