Reading or altering someone’s online vote in Saturday’s election in Western Australia might be much easier than it seems, according to an article published today in Pursuit.

According to authors Dr Chris Culnane and Dr Vanessa Teague from the University of Melbourne, Dr Yuval Yarom and Mr Mark Eldridge from the University of Adelaide and Dr Aleksander Essex from Western University in Canada, voters with disabilities can register and vote over the Internet for the first time on a system called iVote.

But the article says breaches of privacy or overt tampering of ballots may not be detected if they occur online.

iVote uses a proxy server located in the United States to protect voting and registration from distributed denial of service attacks.

“Unfortunately, anyone with (legitimate or illegitimate) control of that server could use that access to read and modify votes,” the authors say. “Although there is no reason to believe that the server is insecure, this adds to the long list of trusted parties with the opportunity to read or modify iVote ballots without detection.”

The WA Electoral Commission has assured voters that their votes are “completely secret” and “cannot be tampered with or changed” the authors say the Commission cannot ensure that either of these statements is true if the connections are proxied through a third party.

The researchers say iVote is not a verifiable voting system. When it was used in the 2015 NSW state election 10% of calls to the verification ervice failed to retrieve any vote at all.

“This is the key problem with the use of online voting systems such as vote: the verification protocol does not guarantee that errors or fraud will be detected.”

“Online voting involves a unique challenge – to keep votes anonymous while producing evidence of a correct outcome, which is not found in other systems such as online banking.”

To resolve these problems, the researchers recommend that WAEC stop using iVote after Saturday’s elections and re-introduce VoteAssist, the polling place system that allows voters to verify a printed paper record of their vote.

“Secure e-voting can work in the privacy of the polling booth, using a paper record so that voters can verify that their vote matches their intention.

“Voters with disabilities shouldn’t have to trust another person, but they shouldn’t have to trust a computer either. On the internet, you might not even know who is voting for you.”

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