Could Internet voting have saved the day?

UK experts debate Internet voting in light of US electoral chaos

The uncertainty and controversy surrounding the US presidential election has prompted some UK pundits to suggest a move towards Internet voting.

Others warn however, that such a step could lead the electoral process into even worse problems. "We think it's bound to come," says chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society Ken Ritchie. "It would just be much more efficient"

Ritchie believes that simplicity and efficiency of Internet voting would not only make the electoral process cleaner and more efficient, it would also encourage more people to cast their vote. "Undoubtedly that would be the case," he says.

Online voting was even tried out for the US presidential election by a one Web site, Votehere.net, which ran a pilot scheme in California and Arizona. It claims that all votes were counted in minutes and were spilt evenly between Democrat candidate Al Gore and Republican George Bush.

It's not just electoral pundits that are interested in the idea of online voting, either. Technology firms are keen to get Internet users to cast their vote over the net. "The technology that allows secure electronic voting is here today," says Tim Dunn, UK business development manager at Irish-based security company Baltimore Technologies. "This would send a great message to the world about Britain being the e-business capital."

There are, however, concerns over the fairness of operating such a system for major political elections, as Alan Duncan, Conservative shadow technology minister, explains. "Personally I am against it," he says. "The most important thing is that not everyone has a laptop or a home computer and any voting system should be equal."

Increased remote voting might have a serious influence on the impartiality of elections, according to Nicholas Bohm, a member of UK government think-tank Information Policy Research (FIPR). He says that it could have a serious impact on the fairness of an election by removing the protection that anonymity affords to a voter.

There are also more practical concerns concerning the security of online voting, however, as Ritchie concedes. "Our big questions are do we have security in place. How can we be sure that if someone is voting from home we know it's the right person?"

High tech security companies argue that they could make any electronic system equally, if not more, secure than conventional voting. They say that encryption, which uses secured digital keys to lock and unlock computer data could be used to secured votes in transit to avoid tampering and also used to digital "sign" votes so that they are authenticated. "It is the fairest and most accurate means of voting and it is reliable," counters Dunn. "With digital signature technology, individual users will be armed with a non-refutable 'online identity' to protect their right to vote".

Bohm, however, points out that the security of home computers would also need to be guaranteed. "There are many security issues that need to be reviewed," he says.

Digital signatures technology may also have a darker side. Some concerned about online privacy and freedom believe that the emergence of digital identities could lead to greater government monitoring and control of citizens. "If a government can achieve a system of this kind, its usually very bad at protecting the privacy of it," says Bohm.

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