Norway internet voting experiment fails

Summary:The government has decided that it's not worth the risks, especially since test programs didn't improve turnout. Yet enthusiasm remains in other countries.

The Norwegian Ministry of Local Government and Modernisation has put an end to a pilot project allowing voting on the internet. The main reasons cited are a lack of increase in turnout amid concern that the program could damage confidence in the electoral process.

A study performed by the Ministry of the test programs run in their 2011 and 2013 elections shows many conflicting results but, at bottom, the benefits were too slight and the problems too great. Only a summary of the Ministry's study is available in English. The full study is in Norwegian (PDF).

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One interesting result was evidence that a small number of voters, 0.75% of all voters, voted twice in 2013. They voted once online and once by conventional paper ballot at a polling station.

At the same time, convinced that it is necessary in order to increase disappointing voter participation rates, officials in the US and UK still are pushing for internet voting. As I explained several weeks ago,  in the US voting over the internet is creeping in from the bottom up  with no real thought being put into the process.

In the UK, for instance, you can't vote yet over the internet but the Electoral Commission is telling citizens to register to vote on a smartphone. Voting laws in the UK appear to be quite different from the US. As the BBC says in the article I just linked to, "[u]p until now the head of the household was responsible for registering anyone who lived at their address." It seems it's also possible to vote by proxy, i.e., to allow another person to cast your vote for you.

Now Brits can go to https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote to register. Instinctively I find this troublesome, but the fact is that the conventional method of mailing in a paper form is not exactly a model of rigid security, and registration is not the same thing as voting. It's not anonymous and some checking can be done to verify the information provided, no matter how it's provided. Still, it's worth noting that already the government are (as they would say in the UK) warning the public of a scam whereby people are charged £29.95 for someone to fill out their registration form.

In the wake of the 2000 US Presidential election in Florida and the light it cast on the mess that election administration is in the US, simultaneous campaigns began both for and against electronic voting devices. Advocates cited the elimination of mechanical problems, hanging chads and butterfly ballots, but critics claimed that the devices could be hacked, calling the legitimacy of elections into question.

If a non-networked device under the physical control of election officials can't be trusted to collect a vote, how can any arbitrary device connected to the Internet be? Unless I've just missed it, the same persons who cried panic over electronic voting machines aren't calling on Congress to ban internet voting.

What's the difference this time? It's the promise of increasing voter participation. This story in the Nottingham Post discusses a survey (an online survey and therefore not especially trustworthy) indicating that 52 percent of Nottingham locals, and 55 percent across the UK, "...would be more inclined to vote if they could do it on their smartphone or tablet — rather than heading to a polling station."

The Norwegian results cast doubt on the assumption that condescending to the laziness of some would increase their political participation. Yes, the convenience of smartphones and the internet is wonderful for some things, like paying bills and buying books, and should be made as convenient as possible.

Voting is different. Maybe it shouldn't be so easy that you can do it from bed or the local pub. I rather like the idea that you need to dedicate some of your time to get it done. The easier it is, the less seriously people will take it.

Topics: Government, Government : UK, Government : US, Security

About

Larry Seltzer has long been a recognized expert in technology, with a focus on mobile technology and security in recent years. He was most recently Editorial Director of BYTE, Dark Reading and Network Computing at UBM Tech. Prior to that he spent over a decade consulting and writing on technology subjects, primarily in the area of sec... Full Bio

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