30 March 2005

Voting Fraud

The Register reports a survey of attitudes to voting fraud.

The good news: a majority express concern about voting by SMS or email. It's actually worrying that only 66% would be concerned about email-voting, but at least it's a clear majority.

The bad news: "nearly 60%" believe that identity cards would be a solution for electoral fraud.

Now, it is possible for me to vote fraudulently by turning up at polling station and claiming to be someone else. But for that one fraudulent vote, I'm taking the risk of being noticed by someone who recognises me, or by someone who would recognise the person I'm claiming to be, or that the person I'm claiming to be has already voted, or that the person will try to vote later, which I might get away with, but which would at least raise suspicion. If I'm an eligible voter myself, I would be well advised to make my legitimate vote in a different polling station, which would entail some travelling. That's a lot of work and risk for one crooked vote. I'm sure it happens, but not on any scale.

In the traditional UK system, every single step of the process is open to the public and visible, except for the voter marking the paper.

That's actually really surprising. I can watch in my local polling stations as voters ask for ballot papers, are given them, hide in a booth to mark them, come out and put them in a box. I can watch the box all day. I can see the box carried to the counting room, and stand on the balcony as counters take the papers out of the boxes and sort them into piles. I don't have to trust anyone else to oversee the process, it's all there for me (or any other voter or candidate) to check.

The manual system is vulnerable to small human errors and small opportunistic fraud. It is totally immune to large systematic fraud, because that is bound to attract attention. In Bruce Schneier's terminology, the system is resilient, despite being imperfect. The security protecting postal or electronic voting, conversely, is brittle: when it breaks, it breaks badly.

Related Links:

Earlier version
Schneier on voting
Schneier describes resilient and brittle security
No2ID

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