Weighing in on the Future of Internet Voting

As the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many citizens to adopt social distancing practices and minimize exposure to publicly trafficked areas like polling places, the possibility of holding major electoral events using technologies like internet voting has garnered significant interest. However, critical questions remain: Is internet voting safe from cyberattacks? Will voters trust the results if internet voting is used on a mass scale? How can the results of elections using internet voting be audited?

On June 16, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) tackled these issues in a webinar on “The Future of Internet Voting,” which was attended by upward of 200 individuals on Zoom. Inspired by the release of IFES’ global white paper Considerations on Internet Voting: An Overview for Electoral Decision-Makers, IFES invited experts from around the world to weigh in on the challenging questions related to internet voting during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond:

  • Virginia Atkinson, Senior Global Inclusion Advisor, IFES
  • Thomas Chanussot, Cybersecurity Expert, IFES
  • Alex Halderman, Professor and Director of the Center for Computer Security and Society, University of Michigan, United States
  • Robert Krimmer, Professor, Ragnar Nurkse Department of Innovation and Governance, Tallinn University of Technology, Estonia
  • Ronan McDermott, Voter Technology Expert, IFES
  • Carsten Schurmann, Professor, IT University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Panelists jointly emphasized how voter education, especially on the technical details of internet voting, is critical to the success or failure of this kind of new technology. They also stressed that it is not easy to earn the trust of skeptical voters, especially in a highly politicized environment. Amplifying this concern is the difficulty of auditing the election results using internet voting technology. Perhaps most worryingly is the prospect of malicious actors hacking the internet voting software to alter results. While internet voting systems are ambitious and exciting, panelists generally urged caution on the prospect of scaling up online balloting options. Given the already precarious position of free and fair elections in many countries, inserting the new, largely untested concept of internet voting into the mix may be one step too far.

Watch the webinar above.

Read the written responses from panelists to some of the unanswered questions posed during the robust Q&A.

For more events on the global response to the pandemic, visit IFES’ COVID-19 Survival Guide for Democracies.

Stay informed by signing up for IFES updates.

Published on July 14, 2020.

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