E-voting requires risk assessments

U.S. Election Assistance Commission

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

No matter what system a government adopts, no technology 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 E-Gov Institute's 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 adviser at the International Foundation for Election Systems, a nonprofit organization that advises governments 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 identify citizens before they go to polling places or vote online, and identification must be presented when they vote. It's a simple measure, but citizens are embracing the new systems and processes so far, using both the Internet and touch-screen systems without any qualms, said Sheila Birrell, town clerk in Markham, Ontario.

U.K. officials conducted several pilot tests of e-voting systems in 2002 and 2003, and auditors found no identity fraud, Bowrey said. Officials have no way of knowing what will happen as the pool of voters grows, but they need to weigh that possibility with the risks that even paper-based systems face, he said.

The possibility that the systems could be tampered with is another concern, but other than 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.

E-voting has faced heavy opposition in Ireland, and government officials recently delayed a move to an e-voting system because of concerns about paper audit trails — an issue currently being debated in the United States. California is one of several states where officials are 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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