ZD Tech: Online voting, the eternal debate

Hello everyone and welcome to ZD Tech, ZDNet’s daily editorial podcast. My name is Louis Adam and today I explain to you why online voting is causing such heated debate.

The elections are over, and the observation is still the same: the abstention rate is at its highest. To fight against this trend, some have a ready-made solution: introduce the possibility of online voting.

French people living abroad were able to vote online this year

Electing your deputy or your president from your sofa, on your smartphone, is a prospect that seems obvious today. After all, you declare and pay your taxes online, and many administrative formalities can be carried out via the Internet. But for the vote, it’s a little more complicated.

To be completely honest: online voting already exists in some countries, and in France for certain specific cases. French people living abroad were thus able to experiment this year with the possibility of voting remotely, directly from an online service. This option was notably opened up for the consular and legislative elections.

But the 2016 American election called into question these first experiments. In a context of doubt about the elections, the authorities preferred to restrict this possibility.

A matter of trust…

Online voting poses similar problems to electronic voting. Electronic voting consists of recording voters’ votes on a dedicated computer. Online voting works in the same way, but with the additional option of allowing voters to interact with the voting registration software remotely, directly from their own devices.

Unfortunately, in both cases, the issue of trust in machines is central. For voters, it is difficult to calmly place their trust in a machine or software responsible for recording votes.

If any voter can decide to attend the counting of the ballot boxes at the end of an election day, electronic voting and online voting do not offer this possibility.

… and safety!

In addition to this issue of trust, online voting must also prove itself in terms of security. Ensuring that vote recording devices are free of security holes that allow a third party to alter the result of the votes cast is complicated. All machines have flaws, and the hackers gathered at the American conference DEF CON frequently have fun demonstrating the weaknesses of these devices.

Faced with the debate, France is therefore opting for the moment for the greatest caution. Some countries such as Estonia and Switzerland have chosen to move forward on this subject and are increasing the number of experiments. Other avenues are being considered to rehabilitate electronic voting, in particular the use of blockchain technology.

But the system presents other difficulties, especially when it comes to passing a vote at the national level. It is reserved for the moment mainly for votes of less importance, for example within companies.

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