I am astonished by the lack of widespread interest in electronic voting issues. The vote is the basis of democracy. Without a proper exercise of the right to vote, all of our other human rights hang on the whim of a "legally elected" leader and can be modified "democratically" at will. A national assembly with a clear majority has a mandate to do whatever they please. We must ensure that those governing are exercising the will of the people they represent. The right to privacy is important, the right to freedom of expression is important. All of our human rights are important. But we need to protect the base of these rights as well, which is the right to vote. There is not a single reference in the official summit (WSIS) documents to electronic voting, and only one short reference in the Civil Society document. I don't know if this issue is considered unimportant, or whether it is considered too sensitive. But I think it needs to be publicized and addressed.
Information technology can support our human rights and be a tool for their propagation through education and information. And electronic voting and identification systems may help more people exercise their right to vote. But the potential for manipulation and invasion are frightening. The rapid electronic dissemination of even correct information is sensitive enough: the spread of news, reactions and violence can be fueled by correct information. Much more sensitive is the manipulation of information as distortion or outright fabrication.
The history of voting is fraught with manipulation and fraud in almost every society and there are documented cases of voting fraud by some of the world's most prominent leaders. If there is proof of voting fraud, as there apparently is, by John F. Kennedy of the United States, we know we are probably vulnerable to fraud by others with less reputation to protect. If there is not voter confidence in the electoral process, there is no exercise of the right to vote.
So it is obvious that any electoral process, but particularly an electronic process must be overseen by a non-partisan electoral commission to ensure transparency and representation. This means that any voting issues group must be careful not to be "opposition" or "against" any government. It must be "for" fair elections, supporting whoever is the properly elected party. Unfortunately, in many cases, the polarization of parties and political positions has resulted in distortion by both parties in and out of power and the media, to the point that it is difficult to tell where the truth is. In this case, all parties lose, because the confidence lost in the electoral process will undermine any election results and weaken the democratic process, and all human rights.
All voting processes, manual or electronic, are subject to error, to omission, to physical and training problems. Electronic voting adds the issue of vulnerability to manipulation through software particularly if there is not a verifiable paper backup.
Computer hackers have every conceivable motivation, many times incomprehensible to most of us. But without a doubt, the stakes in an election are high enough that there most probably will be attempts to manipulate the results. There must be an international certification process for electronic voting machine and software manufacturers to oversee these processes and ensure that all possible efforts are made to avoid tampering.
The collection and use of voter information may seem to be a privacy issue, but it is also a right to vote issue. A voter who is not confident that their vote will be secret and is afraid of retribution related to their political stance may well be affected in their decision of whether to vote and how to vote. If voter ID information is collected in a serial manner parallel to the serial vote tabulation, it is conceivable that the individual vote could be deciphered and recorded.
Further, this, or even physically collected voting information can be published for consultation on a Web Page, for instance, for possible discriminatory actions such as exclusion from job opportunities, government loans, health services and access to education. This possibility will also affect the individual vote, and possibly the outcome of an election.
First, this issue must be given the discussion and attention it merits.
Second, we must have guarantees of both privacy of the vote and transparency (non-manipulation) of the vote.
At present, it would seem that the only way to guarantee the transparency and legitimacy of an election is to compare physical paper ballots with the electronic count. This way the public will have access to an immediate count electronically, with the reliability of a backup paper count within a reasonable time.
Electronic Vote and Democracy electronic-vote.org states very clearly:
The Precautionary Principle applied to elections means that even the smallest doubt about e-vote being really less risky than paper voting it's a good reason to use the traditional paper ballots!