Electronic Voting Protects Our Democracy—Don’t Throw it Away

Electronic Voting Machines
An official films electronic voting machines (EVM) inside a strongroom before the start of vote counting in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad, May 16, 2014. Electronic voting can be more accurate and just as secure as paper ballots. Amit Dave/REUTERS

The recent allegations that Russia interfered with the U.S. elections has led countries to assume that hacking emails is the same as hacking an electronic voting platform. This is false —the U.S. voting system wasn’t hacked—and we are in real danger of dismissing the benefits of election technology because of confusion around the threat of cyber security.

The accusations that someone hacked the email accounts of senior Democrats to release embarrassing ones to help sway the U.S. election has made the rest of the world assess the threat of cyber-attacks on democracy. In recent weeks, the United Kingdom’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) summoned political parties to a summit to discuss the risk of hacking during a general election. France has scrapped electronic voting in the upcoming June legislative elections for citizens living abroad and the Netherlands announced that it would count all its votes by hand in its recent election.

When election technology is properly designed, cyber attacks, such as the ones allegedly perpetrated by the Russians against the U.S. Democratic Party’s email servers, are not a significant risk. Modern, automated voting platforms have a series of highly secure countermeasures in place to prevent being hacked that email services and other web-based applications don’t have. Firstly, voting machines (unlike emails) are only online for one to two minutes at a time to transmit data, making it much harder, if not impossible, for hackers to break into them. Secondly, votes are transmitted over secure private channels not accessible to the public, with secured authentication of both senders and receivers. Votes are digitally signed and asymmetrically encrypted with algorithms. In other words, modern, automated voting platforms have a series of highly secure countermeasures in place, which emails and databases don’t have.

Even the U.S. elections, today under so much scrutiny, serve to demonstrate how reliable election technology is. Despite using technology that was at least 10 years old, no significant incidents occurred in the 2016 elections. The machines used to vote and count the votes worked properly, and recounts only served to prove it. To this day, no one has provided any credible evidence proving the results were altered.

When you compare this to the risks involved in pen and paper voting, where the possibilities for mistakes and fraud are endless—from postal votes getting lost to human error during counting—it is worrying that this manual system is being touted as a safer alternative to election technology. In 2004, 496,180 votes across the London Assembly and mayoral elections were invalidated (6.75 percent of the total) because of errors on the ballot paper (the voter had not clearly stated their intent.)

Panic is never a wise counselor. With election participation declining across the globe and public disaffection with governments increasing, we must do everything within our reach to improve how elections are run and how people engage with their leaders. The challenge of conducting credible elections should be solved via more and better technology, not less. Of course, let’s fight fake news, email hacking and other cyber security threats. But let us not throw the baby out with the bathwater: electronic voting technology protects the integrity of votes and our democracy.

Antonio Mugica is CEO and founder of Smartmatic. It is the largest global provider of elections services and voting technologies—Smartmatic has recorded and counted over 3.7 billon votes across five continents.