Friday, August 5, 2011

Analysis: How easy is it to rig the outcome of an Electonic Election?

Question need to be asked "Just how easy is it to rig the NSW Legislative Council election?

The reality is its quite easy if you have access to the data file and no one else has copies of the data so a comparison cannot be made.

The NSW "Below-the-line" preference data fiels that habve just been released exclude preferences recorded as being informal. Votes where a preference has been omitted or duplicated. This could be as a result of a data-entry or voter error.

Without access to the missing data it is impossible to verify the quality of the data recorded.

What’s even more scary is that if a person had access to the original data file they could easily run a simple query against the data set, removing preferences for a given candidate where that candidate has a higher preference than another candidate. The number of primary votes would still be the same but the ballot paper would exhaust during the count if the preference order had been altered in any way.

Unless you are able to undertake a comprehensive audit or a random check it would be impossible to verify the correctness of the data recorded. The only means if validating the integrity of the election is to rely on the overall data network security and any log files that might provide a forensic trail to any wrong doing. Problem is this that access oog files are not available to scrutineers.

The risk of data being altered is increased if copies of the data files are denied or only made available after the conclusion of the count. All that would be distributed after the count is the altered data file with no means of checking that the data is infact correct

The preferred option and best means of protecting the integrity of the data file is to make copies of the file available, showing all preferences (Including informal and mismatched data-entry preference,) progressively throughout the data-entry process.

Publication of progressive compilation of the data limits the time and opportunity available to alter the data records, Scrutineers would have access to a copies and can monitor and perform random or structured data quality checks as the count progresses. Any close calls would signal warning and alert scruineers and analysts to pay closer attention in the review.

The fact that the data files have not been readily available during the count leaves the system wide open to potential misuse and abuse.

The Electoral Commissionm of course, prefers that no one has access to this information in which case there would be no means of challenge the accuracy and validity of the count. What they do not know can not be questioned.

One thing is clear, If we are to maintain confidence in the electronic counting of our votes the system needs to be designed as such that it is much more open and transparent. The current procedures and practices are far from open and transparent.

In the absence of Electoral Commission's implementing procedures that ensure that data is more readily available and subject to proper and fill scrutiny, Parliaments will have to review the detailed procedures and legislate to protect the system from possible corruption and abuse.

What’s needed is a comprehensive independent Parliamentary review of the processes and procedures in the conduct of electronic elections.

We certainly should not be complacent or lulled into a false sense of security thinking that the system is protected by itself, the fact is it is not.

They said the Titanic was unsinkable. History has proven otherwise. We only need to look at the mistakes made in the 2006 Victorian State Election to realise the extent of errors that can and do occur in an electonic counted election .

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