Electronic voting - issues of trust remain

Mr Lee Kwok Weng asked why Singaporeans fear casting their votes electronically but are comfortable with carrying out monetary transactions online (If online banking is acceptable, electronic voting should be too; Dec 8).

There is a simple reason as to why banking transactions and many other types of online transfers of value work: They can be verified.

People can check if money was sent, e-mails were delivered or digitally encrypted and/or signed documents were decrypted or read by only the intended and so on.

If the electronic transaction were tampered with, one would know.

With election systems, however, the part about tampering is not fully solved.

Most voting systems have as their cornerstone, the secrecy of the vote.

Everyone knows who they voted for, but one cannot check that the eventual accounting of the votes was not tampered with - because, in the simple case, one would be revealing his vote.

I have always told people who I voted for because I feel voting secrecy encourages the possibility of fraud, but I can also understand the real threat if someone is compelled to vote in a particular way under duress and threat.

Tamper-resistant and anonymous validations are active areas of research and some of the thought leaders, such as American computer scientist David Chaum, have some practical ideas that could address them, but issues of trust still remain.

I invite Mr Lee to consider attending and engaging with the local tech and cyber-security community under the auspices of the Singapore Computer Society.

The criticality of the source code of electronic voting systems being open source, verifiable, rebuildable and repeatable is but a small step in the direction of trust.

Harish Pillay

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 13, 2018, with the headline 'Electronic voting - issues of trust remain'. Print Edition | Subscribe