Models of electronic elections and their safety

As it was previously written in the article “Electronic elections as a way to transition to democracy”, we see electronic elections as an alternative to traditional elections with their disadvantages. We believe that this model will make elections as autonomous as possible from the human factor, transparent, convenient and efficient.

There were and there are several systems of electronic elections in the world, let’s try to understand them:

1) A voting system by punch cards;
2) A system of direct electronic voting;
3) Internet voting.

The first electronic voting system appeared in 1960, with the appearance of computing systems based on punch cards.

The election process was as follows:A voter marks his choice, punching out a voting ballot in a special punching device.
A voter inserts a ballot into the machine, aimed at the counting of votes at a polling station.
A voter throws a ballot in the ballot box, which will be transferred to the central office for the counting of votes.

Punch cards and computers for counting the votes were first used in the USA in the primary presidential elections in 1964. Despite the fact that systems with punch cards were replaced in the US by more advanced systems, 37.3% of voters used it in the presidential election in 1996. This system was made to speed up and automate the process of counting the votes, to eliminate mechanical errors when filling out ballots.

Recall that the elections in 2002 in Ukraine were recognized spoiled – 5.6% of the ballots, in 2012 – 3.5% of the ballots, in 2014 – 2.5%.

Direct electronic voting systems are used in Belgium, Brazil, India, Venezuela, USA and other countries. The voting process is held by means of selecting a candidate or party on the touch screen of the electronic system, installed at the polling station. In applying this system there is no need to print the ballots. Voting process details are placed on the local data carrier and transmitted to a central server through encrypted channels. For example, in Belgium every vote is registered simultaneously on the local data carrier and paper check, which is put into the ballot box to duplicate the data of the electronic system in case of its failure. 

Today electronic voting system is optimum and is recognized by a number of world countries and used by them. The only drawback of this system is still the high cost of ownership.

Internet voting is the most convenient way for voters by which you can vote without leaving home. Using this voting system, the voter goes to the site of the election commission, uses special software on his smartphone, tablet or TV-set, makes a few notes in the form and clicks the button “vote”. This system allows saving cash used for placement and operation of polling stations, it will allow raising the involvement of the population in the electoral process. Moreover, the electronic counting of votes is faster than counting of traditional paper ballots, as it is conducted online.

It is an ideal system of electronic voting; you can vote anywhere, in any part of the world using any electronic device. The system has the lowest cost of ownership, but raises serious demands to information security, authorization and authentication of voters.

Today, the election by direct electronic voting or Internet is conducted in 17 countries of the world.

Choosing the model we must take into account that the traditional system of election is made to meet the basic principles of democratic elections:

- ensure free expression of the will and secrecy of the vote;

- not to allow compulsion or influence on voters;

- ensure inviolability of the election results.

It is also important to follow these principles in the introduction of e-voting system, do not forget about reliability, security and transparency of the voting process.

Thus, the electronic voting system must meet the following basic principles:

Security – the system is made so that the impact on it by the people, involved in the service process, is minimized, backup is performed in case of failures, and canons of information security are followed.

Authenticity – only entitled to vote are able to vote and only once.
Confidentiality – to meet the voter’s right to form and express their opinions freely, ensuring secrecy of voting at all stages of voting.
Transparency – to strengthen the trust of voters providing comprehensive information about the functioning of the system.

Accessibility – to provide access to the widest possible range of voters, especially voters with disabilities.

Ensuring of transparency and accessibility will not make much effort – just recording all “voter-vote” pairs and openly publish the results for the general inspection, but then it will be very easy to buy votes and manipulate voters, undermining the foundations of democracy. But mechanisms of secret voting, on the other hand, by its nature provide the widest scope for abusing and fraud with the votes. And here we set a task to ensure the fulfillment of security requirements, authenticity and confidentiality, which seem impracticable. But how often it happens that the obvious at first glance conclusion is incorrect. For example, people were sure for centuries that secure communication is possible only between those who own the common secret key to the cipher. Ukraine has the same ideas about the only possible mechanism for the organization of elections by means of election commissions, counting the number of votes given for the competing candidates. But a quarter of a century ago the science of information security experienced a great revolution. It turned out that there were methods of imposing secrecy, which allow you to encrypt the connection between complete strangers and people who have never communicated – through cryptography with public key. Along the way, scientists have found that using the same ideas it is possible to implement honest elections also, which reconcile mutually exclusive principles.

This idea implies that voters give their votes in an encrypted form, so that none of the representatives of the observers and Counting Commission could identify the author of the completed ballot. At the same time they have a mechanism for counting and validation of votes accounting. The essence of the model is that the voter does not need to blindly trust the honesty of power, organizing the elections, or programmers having made the program system for the elections on behalf of the Government, or anyone else. None of them, in general, can cheat, because it is mathematically impossible – to cheat and not get caught. Mechanism implies that each voter during the counting process can be convinced of the correctness of the registration of his vote. All that is required for this is to organize such verification online.

Such models are now working in our usual online banking services (Privat 24), Internet payment systems (PayPal, WebMoney, etc.), we fully trust them and use every day. But when we hear about electronic or Internet voting, some of us say that this will not work, they will hack and manipulate. The question asks itself: What are they doing now? Are the elections transparent now? Are they honest? Maybe we are specifically inspired that electronic and Internet voting is not safe, so that we do not see how it is easy to make electronic elections honest, applying mathematical models of cryptography.

 

Solving the problem of security and confidentiality, we will have to determine the carrier of voter authentication, which will be written about in the following article.

Author: Alexander Shalimov

Date: 22 January 2015

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