We need to fix voting from abroad but online voting isn't the answer

01 March 2024

“This is bullshit”, Marc Lewandowski quite rightly said when his ballot arrived in Melbourne with just three days to get back to the UK before polling day. With stories like Marc’s emerging every election, it’s natural for online voting to come up as a possible solution. It’s not though, as it introduces too many risks to election integrity.

Ask nearly any computer security expert why not. Ask the EFF. Don’t ask me. I’ve worked in computer security and I know enough to not consider myself an expert. I do understand security tradeoffs though and having read their advice I agree it’s not worth it.

Elections are at the heart of a democracy. Question their integrity and the whole system risks collapsing. This is not theoretical. Look at what happened in the aftermath of the 2020 US Presidential Elections. Trump made false accusations of election fraud, which led to the January 6th storming of the Capitol.

It doesn’t need someone to hack an election system. It merely needs them to sow seeds of doubt in the result. That’s so much easier with online voting, where paper trails may be missing or where accusations of tampering with them are easier to make stick. That someone can be a candidate or a nation state actor. Russia interfered in the 2016 US Presidential Election. Chinese hackers hacked US infrastructure for 5 years. Put these two together and you could bring down the whole system.

Let’s look at the problems we are trying to fix and find innovative solutions that maintain election security. This is exactly what we did when we were consulted with as part of the implementation of the Elections Act 2022. We met with Chloe Smith, the Minister responsible, and pushed for approaches to ensure all votes are counted with electronic distribution of ballots and the use of embassies. These suggestions were unfortunately ignored and didn’t make it into law.

With 2.1 million British citizens abroad newly-eligible to vote, we’ll continue to push for such solutions to ensure the voice is heard of everyone who chooses to exercise their democratic right, not just the voices of those that live close enough for their vote to be counted.

Picture credit (cropped): Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

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