On Saturday, a number of NSW residents voted in a local government election. Basically, they chose who would represent their particular ward of their LGA (I’m so sorry, I know that is not an abbreviation we want to hear ever again). But those voting online via iVote had a bit of trouble – the system went down and it prompted security researchers to renew their calls to have the entire thing thrown out.
The Local Government Act was amended earlier this year to allow iVote for the first time at council elections, in response to the challenges of COVID-19. While some of you might be thinking, “Yay, online voting”, iVote doesn’t have the best rep.
In early March 2019, a group of Aussie researchers found a flaw in the Swiss Internet voting system, which is the same system used by the NSW Electoral Commission – iVote. Later that month, researchers detailed a second flaw in the electronic voting system, discovering another method that could be exploited to result in a tampered election outcome. Prior to this, in 2015 and 2017, further holes were poked in the system by security researchers.
Basically, the researchers have wanted the system pulled for years.
But on Saturday, the iVote system went down, renewing the calls.
“The NSW Electoral Commission is aware that some iVote users were unable to gain access to the system to vote today,” the commission said in a statement.
“This was due to the increased volume of people using the iVote system.
“Almost triple the number of voters have used iVote at these elections than any previous election.”
NSWEC or its providers could end up in major trouble over this (depending on the scale) but if so the politicians should be in trouble too. They keep allowing internet voting despite repeated expert warnings that it's unsafe at any speed (and not just when it crashes).
— Kevin Bonham (@kevinbonham) December 4, 2021
According to the NSWEC, at the 2019 NSW state elections, 234,401 votes were cast using iVote. At close of applications at 1pm Saturday AEDT, 652,983 votes had been cast using the system since it opened on 22 November.
Vanessa Teague, one of the researchers who found the flaws with iVote, said the real issue isn’t that the system was overwhelmed, rather its security problems.
The real concern here isn't evident failures, it's undetectable errors or security problems. Even if it seems to be working, iVote produces no evidence that its electronic votes accurately reflect the intentions of eligible voters.
If you can, please go and vote on paper. #Nswpol https://t.co/U8stEDb9Qg
— Vanessa Teague (@VTeagueAus) December 3, 2021
As highlighted in her Twitter posts on the issue, Teague is concerned with the outcome of the votes cast via iVote.
6/7: And of course the really important point is: where is the evidence of eligible voter intent in any of those 650,000 votes, when we know the system that received them had serious IT problems? We may simply not have enough information to determine who deserved to be elected.
— Vanessa Teague (@VTeagueAus) December 4, 2021
A full report on the conduct of the election is required by legislation to be released on the NSWEC website by May 2022.