The Canadian parliamentary Special Committee on Electoral Reform (ERRE) recently held a public consultation regarding potential changes in the way people vote in future federal elections. This included a potential move toward proportional representation, but the committee’s mandate also included studying online voting. I submitted a brief outlining the cyber-security risks of online voting.

Brief Summary

Secure and verifiable Internet voting remains one of the most challenging open problems in cyber-security. Despite numerous potential social benefits, the technological risks are many, and the democratic stakes, therefore, remain high. We recommend the Special Committee on Electoral Reform (ERRE) not proceed with Internet voting in federal-level elections until (a) research and development efforts can create effective end-to-end election verification technologies, and (b) a national framework for secure Internet voting can be created establishing security standards, software testing requirements, government oversight, and legal accountability.

Internet Voting in Canada: A Cyber Security Perspective
Aleksander Essex
Submission to the Canadian Special Committee on Electoral Reform (ERRE), 2016.
[ Citation ]

The Committee's Findings

Through the summer and fall the committee received over 500 briefs and heard from over 700 witnesses. On Nov. 29th, ERRE released its final report. Among its other findings, the committee had this to say about online voting:

The Committee heard significant testimony (and received submissions), particularly from experts in technology, that the secrecy and integrity of an online ballot cannot be guaranteed to a sufficient degree to warrant widespread implementation in federal elections. The Committee agrees.

The committee additionally made the following recommendations:

  1. The Committee recommends that online voting not be implemented at this time.
  2. The Committee recommends that Elections Canada explore, in collaboration with relevant stakeholder groups, the use of technologies to promote greater accessibility of the vote while ensuring the overall integrity of the voting process.
  3. The Committee recommends that the House of Commons refer the question of how to improve the accessibility of voting for Canadians with disabilities, while ensuring the overall integrity of the voting process, to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.