E-voting requires risk management

U.S. Election Assistance Commission

Risk management is the name of the game around the world as governments move to electronic voting, and there is no single answer for gaining public trust, officials said this week.

No matter what system a government adopts, there is no technology that can provide complete security and prevent tampering, said Julian Bowrey, program manager for local e-government in the United Kingdom. "In any system, you have to understand the risks and manage the risks," he said, speaking at the Government Solutions Forum in Washington, D.C.

"There are many ways you can manage the risk, but you can't guarantee there is no risk at all," said Cameron Quinn, U.S. elections advisor at the International Foundation for Election Systems, a nonprofit organization that advises on all areas of election management.

Voter identity verification is one of the biggest concerns.

Officials in Ontario, Canada, have set up a two-step registration process to ID citizens before they come to the polling place or vote online, and identification must be presented when they vote. It's a simple measure, but citizens are embracing the new voting systems and processes so far, using both the Internet and touch-screen systems without any qualms, said Sheila Birrell, town clerk in Markham, Ontario.

The United Kingdom held several local pilot tests of e-voting systems in 2002 and 2003, and in all cases auditors found no identity fraud, Bowrey said. There is no way to tell what will happen as the pool of voters gets larger, but officials need to weigh that possibility along with the risks that even a paper-based system can face, Bowrey said.

The possibility that the systems themselves could be tampered with is another concern, but other than testing and validating previous tests, the best way to mitigate risk seems to be to standardize on a system so everyone faces the same risks, said David Walsh, assistant principal in the franchise section of Ireland's Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

Electronic voting has faced heavy opposition in Ireland, and the government there recently delayed its move to an e-voting system because of concerns about paper audit trails -- an issue being debated currently in the United States. California is one of several states considering laws to require paper records, and the federal Election Assistance Commission last month started developing recommendations for addressing the issue.

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