Oracle’s specious arguments for e-voting

The original article from E-Government Bulletin’s mid-september edition. It’s a great newsletter, subscribe by visiting
www.headstar.com/egb. The article is © Headstar Ltd.

++SECTION THREE: OPINION
– E-VOTING.

+09: A CASE FOR THE DEFENCE
by Andy Smith andy.smith@oracle.com .

In May 2003, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister ran a series of e-
voting pilots involving 17 local authorities. The Electoral Commission
said they had “operated successfully with more than 160,000 voters
casting their vote by electronic means”. Surely cause for optimism,
even celebration? So why does e-voting attract such negative press?
[see for example ‘An unenviable record’ by Mark Pack, E-Government
Bulletin issue 143, 22 August 2003].

There are several reasons. There is – quite rightly – concern about
falling voting levels in elections. But e-voting is not primarily about
turnout. It is therefore wrong to measure its success or failure by
turnout alone. E-voting is fundamentally about access. Turnout is
always higher when people believe the outcome matters, and that is
down to the politicians. They set the climate that determines whether
or not citizens vote. Technology simply allows people to vote when
and how it suits them.

As with all e-government initiatives, technology is only part of the
picture. Voter confidence is key, particularly where security and
privacy are concerned. It only needs one security failure to put the
programme back years or end it altogether, hence the importance of
using secure, robust and reliable technology at all stages.

E-government is about designing and delivering services around the
needs of citizens, and e-voting must be a key part of this agenda.
Surely voting is one of the most important government-to-citizen
interactions? Our current system of crosses on papers in polling booths
may be tried and tested, but it is increasingly out of step with our 21st
century lifestyles.

E-voting in isolation will not work. It is not sustainable to install an
infrastructure and leave it mothballed for 364 days a year. There are
many ways to reuse the infrastructure, including a whole spectrum of
e-democracy initiatives such as online consultations to engage citizens
in a meaningful way and reinvigorate the democratic process.

E-voting needs to keep pace with other Government initiatives.
Citizens will not be impressed by local authorities offering e-voting
and nothing else. It is also important to engage more actively with local
politicians in the e-voting process. E-voting is arguably the one e-
government initiative where politicians have a real vested interest, yet
evidence suggests they are nervous about change. They also know that
championing e-voting will not win votes – improved public services or
lower taxes have far more appeal.

E-voting to date has been a classic example of the “tick-box” approach
to e-government. The focus has been on e-enabling existing processes,
rather than seizing the opportunity to improve the entire voting
process. For example, voters could click on links to information about
candidates and their political parties prior to casting their votes. This
would facilitate more informed voting and could even address the
increasing voter apathy and poor turnout.

So what is the way forward? The Government is promising an e-
enabled general election after 2006. But ODPM has still not issued its
roadmap. Pilots in 2004 are looking increasingly unlikely because of
combined local and European elections. A general election in 2005
could similarly put pay to pilots that year. These factors pose a real risk
to the e-voting momentum. We can only expect complete
bewilderment from voters who have responded positively to two
rounds of e-voting pilots when they hear they have to revert to
traditional methods.

The government’s commitment to e-voting must be reflected in a
roadmap – with e-voting properly positioned as part of the broader e-
government and e-democracy agenda.

NOTE: Andy Smith is industry solutions director for public services at
Oracle UK.

[Article ends].

Jason Kitcat’s response to Andy Smith…

To: Andy Smith (Oracle)
cc: Dan Jellinek (E-Government Bulletin’s editor)
From: Jason Kitcat
19/09/03

Hi Andy

Always good to see the debate about evoting get a little more oxygen…

But I have to take objection to some of your points, though I’m glad to
see you surrender turnout as a potential benefit from implementing
e-voting.

“Surely voting is one of the most important government-to-citizen
interactions?”

No. Voting is not a government-to-citizen interaction, it isn’t even a
citizen-to-government interaction. It is a societal action to
effectively SELECT THE GOVERNMENT. In other words a collective citizen
action.

“Our current system of crosses on papers in polling booths may be tried
and tested, but it is increasingly out of step with our 21st century
lifestyles.”

Really? Why is that? We aren’t in our hover cars yet! Paper production
has been steadily increasing over the last decade. School children still
write essays and draw pictures. We still sign contracts with pens and we
still like our votes to be verifiable and easy to use. Such a modernity
argument is specious.

“The focus has been on e-enabling existing processes, rather than
seizing the opportunity to improve the entire voting process. For
example, voters could click on links to information about candidates
and their political parties prior to casting their votes. This would
facilitate more informed voting and could even address the increasing
voter apathy and poor turnout.”

Hang on a second… didn’t you start out by saying that this wasn’t a
turnout issue but an access issue? Yet now you are claiming turnout
could be boosted…. The best research I can find shows that voters
aren’t apathatic about political issues, they are fed up with
politicians and their campaigning methods (and the lack of
proportionality in the voting systems). [More at
http://www.free-project.org/writings/]

There is no way the Electoral Commission or any mainstream political
party would allow linking to information during an e-vote, there is too
much room for abuse, libel and it also raises security and privacy
issues.

“But ODPM has still not issued its roadmap. Pilots in 2004 are looking
increasingly unlikely because of combined local and European elections.”

Hmmm… looks like e-Euro elections are pretty likely according to this
ODPM news release:
http://www.odpm.gov.uk/pns/DisplayPN.cgi?
pn_id=2003_0189

“We can only expect complete bewilderment from voters who have responded
positively to two rounds of e-voting pilots when they hear they have to
revert to traditional methods.”

This view implies that any new method or technology trialed must be kept
in use otherwise the people will storm onto the streets in protest!
Surely people are intelligent enough to accept that the technologies
were being trialed and they were found wanting at £55 per vote (in
Sheffield). My immiment full analysis of the Electoral Commission’s
report will highlight some of the failings that the government chose to
underplay.

Fact: Canada is the second largest country in the world, geographically,
and yet they get their paper votes counted in around 4 hours. Why should
we spend taxpayer’s money on unproven, expensive and unnecessary
technology?

I also feel that it should have been made clear by yourself and
E-Government Bulletin that you aren’t just a member of industry but that
Oracle in fact were a supplier in the e-voting pilots and thus this
article is pushing your interests for continued business in this market.
Very few people indeed would know that Oracle has a vested interest in
e-voting otherwise.

Best regards,
Jason

Andy chose to acknowledge my email but did not respond to any of my comments.

Richard Stallman of the Free Software Foundation has submitted the following rebuttal’s to Oracle’s statement:

“E-voting is fundamentally about access.”

Will anyone gain substantially in access to vote from E-voting?
Computer owners tend to be the wealthier classes, and they have no
difficulty voting now. Is there any problem for E-voting to solve
that is important enough to justify the risk?

“It only needs one security failure to put the programme back years or end it altogether, hence the importance of using secure, robust and
reliable technology at all stages.”

The danger of E-voting is that there is no way to assure security.
The tradition of democratic elections is to let the parties verify
that the election is carried out honestly, but E-voting makes this
impossible; it comes down to a matter of “trust us”.

“Surely voting is one of the most important government-to-citizen
interactions? Our current system of crosses on papers in polling
booths may be tried and tested, but it is increasingly out of step
with our 21st century lifestyles.”

Elections are so important–presuming there is a decent candidate to
vote for–that we cannot leave decisions about electoral systems to
fashion and lifestyle preferences. The first priority is to make sure
the election is run honestly. With E-voting, there is no way to do
that.

“E-voting to date has been a classic example of the “tick-box”
approach to e-government. The focus has been on e-enabling
existing processes, rather than seizing the opportunity to improve
the entire voting process.”

Providing deeper ways for citizens to participate in designing
government policies, in addition to elections, might be an idea worth
trying. So let’s try this–and put E-voting on hold.

rms@gnu.org

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