There are renewed calls for online voting at a near-future general election in the UK, but as we discussed at the UnConference this year. Even if we knew what problem this is supposed to fix, I suspect it would still be the wrong answer.
It’s a tiresome meme, and I get as bored as everyone else listening to tech folk go on about how politicians don’t understand the Internet (or, indeed, technology in general), but what is baffling to me is that knowing nothing about the Internet they don’t ask people who do (e.g., me) to provide some input. If, for example, the Speaker of our House of Commons had asked me about online voting in this of all years, the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta coming up in June, I would never have advised him to say something like this:
People should be offered the opportunity to cast their vote online in the 2020 general election, a commission set up by House of Commons Speaker, John Bercow, has said.
I brought this up at our Tomorrow’s Transactions UnConference 2015 this week when voting came up in my discussion session about about non-financial demands for identity and authentication technologies. I emphasised the point that voting online is a mad idea that doesn’t fix any actual problem, and I was hardly a lone voice. Let me stress that I was not saying that we could not use modern technology to improve the voting system. Far from it.
We live in a Venmo world now, so if the under-30s want to vote using an app that tells their friends that they voted, or perhaps even how they voted, or perhaps allows them to add a funny picture or an acute comment, well so be it. But make it secure, and make them go down to the polling station to use it.
The guys and gals in the discussion session came up with a rather interesting idea: Democracy Monkey. Think Survey Monkey but with the strong two-factor authentication and appropriate Customer Due Diligence (CDD). The idea is this: make Democracy Monkey a public utility that can be used by central and local government for all sorts of public purposes and sell it to business so that they can use it for votes for shareholder meetings and such like. I also thought that it could be used for “Britain Hasn’t Got Talent”, “The Why Factor” and “I Used to be a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here” and so on as a way to socialise the use of the technology.
We developed our plan using Chaumian blinded tokens as the core technology. The broad marketecture is that you use your IDA identity provider to register with the Democracy Monkey and to indicate which elections you want to take part it. The system sends you tokens for those elections at the appropriate time. The Democracy Monkey app on your mobile phone could store the tokens in a tamper-resistant secure element and then when you want to “spend” the vote you can run the app or tap to make it happen. For some voting, such as General Elections, you would be required to tap as that sort of voting is a public act, but for other voting (e.g., “Strictly Come Trampolining”) you could use the in-app “spend” to vote remotely. I think this is worth a try and stand ready to answer the nation’s call should the powers that be decide to move forward.