Electronic Voting in the Labour Party Leadership Election

A few days ago I received an email I was expecting about voting for the leader of the Labour Party.

The email said I could now cast my vote in the Labour Party’s leadership election to decide the Labour candidate for Britain’s next Prime Minister.

It told me that my vote must be received by 12 noon on Wednesday 21 September to count.

And it gave me a link to a website where I was to enter a two-part security code to confirm my identity and then vote.

I did it and it was very easy to vote, with clear instructions about what to do.

Electronic Voting

This is the first time I have voted electronically in a political election.

After I voted I viewed the long headers in the email. It told me that the domain from which the email came designates the IP address as a permitted sender.

I did a reverse IP lookup and saw that the email came from the mail server at Electoral Reform Services, the entity that is running the election on behalf of the Labour Party.

So it all looks good - not that I expected anything different. But it did make me think about electronic voting.

I Am Relaxed

I am relaxed about using an electronic system in the election of the leader of the Labour Party.

I am less relaxed at the idea of using an electronic system to vote in a General Election to decide which party will form the next government.

The opportunity for fraud when there is no paper ballot, worries me.

I can see how digital voting systems will appeal to governments in national elections. They will cite cost and disruption to schools and libraries and a need to move into the digital age.

Security and The Electoral Reform Services

The Electoral Reform Services website says it is trusted and appointed by all the major political parties to administer their internal elections.

It also says that independence, impartiality and integrity are its core values and that security is the cornerstone of the ERS brand,specifically:

  • All their voting websites are designed, built and hosted internally, with no reliance on third parties.

  • Eligible voters log on to their dedicated voting site with a security code through a unique ERS-hosted web address that uses banking standard equivalent security access measures.

  • Their state-of-the-art election software ensures an accurate result through the use of complex algorithms and coding.

  • They offer the reassurance of proven resistance to hacking and attacks, and continually monitor, check and re-check the robustness of their systems.

  • Regular penetration tests identify potential threats which are quickly repaired.

Why Paper Is Safer

It sounds good, but this is why paper is safer.

Paper voting is done at numerous polling stations. Any party intent on fraud would have to do so under the eyes of many people in many places.

Even if a party intent on fraud concentrated on marginal seats, they would still have to fiddle the count under the eyes of people watching.

And those watchers would be all the more watchful precisely because a seat is marginal.

With an electronic system, everything is concentrated in one place. Hack that and you have cracked it and the vote is yours.

And for all the claims by Electoral Reform Services, you have only to look at the hacks against government departments and banks to know that even they can be hacked.

And it is not even that the code has to be hacked. Hackers have fooled site admins into giving up credentials, and admins and other employees have walked out with the code on a thumb drive.

We know it's possible and we know it's been done.

Given that, how can a system that gives the vote to the many and controls the count by the few, ever be considered democratic?