Internet voting: A risky proposition

An online voting machine: Are we ready for this?

An online voting machine: Are we ready for this?

By Bert Eljera

From Manila last week came this news that surprisingly got no major play or comments from the country’s leading newspapers. This was the rather audacious claim by Senator Aquilino Pimental III that by 2016, as many as 10 million overseas Filipinos, may cast votes in that year’s presidential election.

He based his assertion on amendments to the  Overseas Absentee Voting Act that the Senate had ratified and may soon become law with President Aquino’s signature.

Pimentel, chairman of the committee on electoral reforms and suffrage, sponsored the bill, calling for the removal of the provision that requires Filipino immigrants and permanent residents of other countries to declare their intention to return to the Philippines after registering as voters under the OAV Act.

More significantly, the ratified bill would allow Filipino migrants to register and vote through mail, both postal or electronic, fax, “and other secure online systems.”

“Maybe not in this coming election in May, but once the OAV amendments take effect,” Pimentel said in a statement.

Let me repeat that, or better yet, let Pimentel repeat that: “The participation of overseas Filipinos in the election of national officials would be as easy as their turning on their computers and connecting to the Internet to register or to vote.”

*****

Internet voting. Is the Commission on Elections prepared for that? In the wake of criticisms from the recent mock elections to test the agency’s capability to conduct an electronic election, is the country ready?

I think not! Pimentel may be a presidential candidate in 2016 and he’s setting his sights high, but his projection of the country’s technological advances are rather too ambitious to say the least.

In the Nov. 2012 election in the United States, only two -states – New Jersey and California – allowed some kind of Internet voting.

The Huffington Post reported that New Jersey allowed voters to vote online because of Hurricane Sandy that disrupted voting preparations in some areas. And the conditions were stringent: A voter must signify an intention to vote online and must be granted permission to do so.

In California, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, “only overseas and military personnel protected under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act can cast ballots via e-mail.”

*****

Interviewed by CNN on a story about online voting, Avi Rubin, a professor of computer science at Johns Hopkins University,  said that security is the biggest concern, with the possibility of hackers and corruption of files: “online voting is a very unsafe idea and a very bad idea.”

There’s also the problem of verifying the identity of the voter while also guaranteeing anonymity of his or her vote.

Registering online was an option in 2012 in some states like Indiana and Utah, actual voting online was not feasible.

PC Week reported that at a talk last year hosted by the Overseas Vote Foundation, David Jefferson, a computer scientist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, said: “Email voting is by far the least secure voting method ever devised by man. Email ballots are transmitted in the clear over the Internet. They’re not even encrypted.”

Jefferson was concerned with the loss of privacy, potential miscounting, and the ease and possibility of vote tampering by foreign governments or others.

Countries that use Internet voting, such as Estonia, Norway, and Canada, choose to use Web applications for Internet voting. With a Web app, a voter requests and receives a blank ballot, then transmits the filled-out ballot back to the government.

Attacks can occur at many points of that transaction: on the vendor’s development network, county election network, the voter side, or at any point between the parties involved.

Is the Philippines ready for this Pimentel vision?

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