e-voting: The privatisation of our democratic rights

Voting is not a government service, e-voting is not e-government. Voting is the most obvious and most powerful single act we do as a society to collectively keep democracy going in our country.

Voting is something we, as citizens, do to maintain the democratic process. Voting alone isn't democracy, but it holds politicians to account as we express our will. My vote isn't just important to me, it could potentially effect us all if it is the one which tips the balance one way or the other. So unlike a bank transaction, where it's improbable to affect so many others if the bank makes an error, voting is a societal action which doesn't just change politician's lives but ours also.

While we delegate the administration of elections to our local and national government, we as a society are still involved by volunteering at polling stations, observing counts and of course by paying the taxes which fund this process.

But when we bring technologies like touchscreen voting machines and Internet voting into our elections process, election administrators do not have the knowledge or resources to manage all this themselves. So they use commercial suppliers who inevitably have to be motivated by making a profit as much as by providing a service.

What we have seen again and again in the US, UK, Ireland, Canada, Netherlands and so on is the huge dependence election officials have had to put in the suppliers. They cannot run elections without the companies' help, it's in Electoral Commission reports or watch the veteran Elections Supervisor, Ion Sancho explain his dependency on vendors when running elections for Leon County, Florida (MPG video). After letting his machines be tested and shown to be hackable, ALL the major vendors refused to supply him with the new machines he was legally obliged to purchase.

This is but a hint of the power of the vendors. When the elections cannot be run without private suppliers (who are all operating on a for-profit basis) then the elections are privatised. Privatisation has not been an unblemished success, while British Telecom's privatisation has eventually worked thanks to very strict deregulation, other examples are much less rosy which is why former World Bank Senior Vice President and Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz thinks privatisation doesn't work. When choice and competition are difficult or impossible to provide, such as with our elections or railway network, we see what a mess privatisation creates.

As a voter I have no choice over who provides my “voting service”, it is predetermined by government. So I don't have a choice. So far in the UK, local authorities have not had a choice either, as central government has imposed one of a small number of suppliers on them. These suppliers, foreign companies like election.com (now Accenture), VoteHere, ES&S, Online Assessment Company and Nedap (aka PowerVote) are out of our control making profit from our democratic process.

People we can't hold to account are making profit out of a democratic right which we have no choice but to use if we want to maintain our democracy. That's privatisation through and through. At least with the railway system problems, such as derailings, are visible but with e-voting problems and abuse are undetectable.

Electronic voting is the privatisation of our elections. It's not right.