Vote early, vote often for e-voting

Chief Electoral Office looking to boost confidence in e-voting

Early voting and the option of a repeat vote may become a feature of electronic voting in New Zealand, according to the Chief Electoral Office.

The possibility of a vote well in advance of polling day, and of a re-vote in case of doubt, is being studied as a way to boost confidence in an electronic ballot.

A draft strategy document, drawn up by the Office late least year but only recently released, suggests voters who choose the electronic channel would be allowed to cast their ballot in the “advance voting period” of up to 17 days before polling day. This period is normally made available for voters who cannot get to a polling place on the official day.

“This would ensure e-voters are not under time pressure and can choose an opportunity convenient to them when they are likely to be in private,” says the strategy document.

To add further confidence a voter would be able to inspect his or her vote in the electoral database on entry of a confidential identifier and check that it had been recorded correctly — a privilege not available to those who vote manually at a polling booth.

If the voter felt they had been unduly influenced by another person while voting from their PC — an often-discussed disadvantage to e-voting — they would be able to cast another vote at a polling booth and this will override the first vote, says the strategy.

“The democratic principle of everyone having the same number of votes is maintained in that everyone has the same number of votes counted,” the Chief Electoral Office emphasises.

Limited pilots of e-voting on such principles for people who find it hard to vote in the usual way could be held in the 2011 and/or 2014 elections, the report suggests. But general e-voting is unlikely before 2017 at the earliest and perhaps as late as 2023.

Even before the pilots can begin, “there will need to be a period of extensive public consultation, and policy and legal work in support of new legislation,” says the Electoral Office.

The most likely mode of authentication would be through participation in the government log-on service (GLS), already in use for other government transactions. The report takes a cautious approach overall, referring not only to the risk of undue influence on voters and malfunctioning of the e-voting procedure, but also to the possibility of a mass denial-of-service attack on New Zealand’s internet on polling day.

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