Our mates at Figure.NZ and Te Pūnaha Matatini have asked us to talk about what innovation means to us. As the Innovation Partnership we bring together like minds to drive digital innovation in New Zealand. We believe that if we can put digital at the centre of our education, business and government, New Zealand will be more productive, efficient, and successful.
One of our focus areas is to drive innovation in government. We want to do this because we believe that the innovative adoption of technology in government can increase transparency and make it more accessible for all citizens. It is a lofty ambition, but one that we think is important to drive democracy and make sure that the government is accessible to the people they serve.
Figure.NZ’s boards help show why we want to bring innovation into government.
If we take a look at this chart, we can see that people’s willingness to vote online in 2012 went up in all age groups when compared to 2009 numbers. People want to vote online but unfortunately they can’t.
We reckon that it’s high time government offered online voting. Estonia has one of the most digitally advanced governments in the world, and they’ve been doing it (successfully) for years. Currently attempts to establish online voting in NZ have been delayed by concerns around privacy and security. As a country, we keep putting it in the too hard basket instead of coming up with innovative solutions to solve the problems.
At the same time, voter turnout is decreasing.
One of the many ways that we could attempt to combat decreasing voter turnout is to take democracy into people’s lives, and one way to do that is to take our democracy online.
Data also has an incredibly important role in the future of our democracy. An informed citizenry is essential to a thriving democracy (just look at what’s happened in the US where how people ‘feel’ about an issue has become more important than actual facts).
As technology becomes more pervasive, people expect innovative, technology-based solutions to their problems. Understanding what people want and expect helps organisations across all sectors figure out what areas they need to innovate in to stay relevant. Data is one of the many ways we can gain this understanding, and the democratisation of access to data is growing everyday.
Data helps us show that the proof is in the pudding, and gives us one more way to tell our story.
See Joe’s FigureNZ data boards for more insights.
Joe is responsible for the day-to-day running of the Innovation Partnership, including keeping tabs on projects and members, and making sure that the Partnership keeps moving towards its goals.
Joe is the Founder of Lean Communications, a PR and Communications agency that specialises in providing support for technology and ICT clients. His background is in communications and project management.
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The local government e-voting trial cancellation wasn’t “putting it in the too hard basket”. It was the only possible response to failures to follow the processes and standards central government set in order to meet a reasonable standard of security.
More generally, this post relies on a belief that e-voting will increase turnout. Everyone agrees declining turnout is a big problem and e-voting is tempting as a solution.
Unfortunately, when researchers, including our own Electoral Commission, look at the reasons why people don’t vote, the biggest ones are that non-voters don’t believe their vote makes a difference. The problem isn’t that it’s too inconvenient, the problem is that we are losing faith in our institutions.
Evoting systems fail in a very different way to paper ones. They’re centralised and they rely on experts to operate and validate. That means they can fail all at once (data leaks, data alteration, denial of service) and the results can only be validated by a handful of experts. This is in contrast to the paper system which is very hard to compromise significantly without detection, and which can be audited by lay people easily. It’s worth noting that the Estonian system relies on an infrastructure of national ID cards and itself has been shown to have worrying implementation flaws. Meanwhile many other implementations have failed, or been abandoned. We could back ourselves to succeed, but a survey of existing efforts by bigger better resourced polities suggests we shouldn’t bet on it.
Anyway here, Joe is advocating to move from a reliable, low-risk system, at potentially high cost (think massive public sector IT project with an immovable deadline), for a benefit that political science research suggests is likely not there.
The big problem here is that while Joe has the *data* part nailed, the information side — political science, computer science, public sector procurement and electoral law and risk management — has been ignored. Data has revealed a problem, but insight from experts in relevant fields is required to draw useful conclusions. Not all innovation is for the better.
Anyone can build an online voting system.
It’s just that a system can *never* be relied upon to deliver the voters’ intent. It cannot be scrutinised nor authenticated nor confirmed the way. Paper ballots have stood up to robust scrutiny.
Hmm – this is an example of correlation being mistaken for causation. The idea that convenience of voting will reverse reduction in voter participation is completely unfounded in evidence. I’d be keen for Joe to address his evidence supporting his enthusiastic recommendation for governments to rush into e-voting… particularly in the face of every test of e-voting overseas being either suspended due to actual voting fraud, or being highly suspect (by credible experts) of allowing voter fraud and without the ability to prove it hasn’t been exploited. The current state-of-the-art is incapable of delivering a secure e-voting system – it’s not innovative to adopt it, it’s foolhardy. Suggesting otherwise is to ignore all the failures of others around the world, and to assert that we, somehow, will succeed where others have failed (as other commenters have noted). Folly.
The issues with Online Voting cannot be “innovated around”, it is not a flaw in specific pieces of software, it is a flaw in all software. It is not a minor matter of adding more and more layers of validation and verification in return for efficiency, it is the very nature of efficiency itself that makes it a problem.
It does not matter how many people want to do this, this is the fundamental underpinning of our democracy. It is not a place to take risks, it is a place to tread with the utmost care.
Paper voting is simple, paper voting is verifiable, paper voting is safe for participants, paper voting involves many humans in the process and paper voting is easy to understand as a system.
Online voting is complicated, online voting is not verifiable, online voting is unsafe for some participants, online voting involves few humans in the process and online voting is impossibly difficult to understand as a system.
Online voting has literally no upsides beyond the ability to do it from your home and get a faster count. None. Every single other aspect – the ones that matter for the result to be trustworthy – are dramatically worse than the existing solution.
If anything will increase the disenfranchisement of voters it will be when we no longer trust the systems that count our votes. Lets innovate our democracy yes, but do it by improving the way people are informed, how they think, how they can understand how issues affect them and their society. Don’t mess with the one piece that is working as well as we can make it work.
I’ve worked in polling places on election day, the last time in one of New Zealand’s largest and busiest polling places. That meant I dealt with a lot of confused voters.
There were many people who who didn’t know what electorate they were in, and several who said to me “I want to vote for [insert name of leader of preferred party here] and their name isn’t on the voting form”. I explained so many times that day about how we have two votes, one for a person who will represent your local area and another for the party who you want to run the country. Despite clearly not having the foggiest about how voting worked, these people presented themselves at a polling place where they could get assistance to vote in accordance with their wishes. How is an online system going to cope with these people? And might they just give up when they don’t see the name they expect to vote for on the screen?
One thing that was emphasised during our training was that we were not to turn anyone away who said they wanted to vote. Even if we had doubts about their eligibility, this would be sorted out later when voting records were checked. I’d like to know what safeguards there would be against an online system effectively turning people away from voting.
With apologies to Jamie Zawinski: Some people, when confronted with a voter engagement problem, think “I know, I’ll use online voting.” Now they have five problems.
Talking to young people I know, the main reason they give me for not voting isn’t “going to a polling booth is too much hassle”. It’s more like “no point, they’re just gonna do whatever they want anyway” or “why should I, they don’t listen to us”.
If people think “I couldn’t be bothered” means the kids these days are too lazy and shiftless to Do Their Democratic Duty and we just need put kewl online voting on teh intarnets for them to make them engage… yeah, nah. There’s a bit more to it than that, eh.
As someone qualified to build such systems (I submit as my CV: I’m part of the team that built figure.nz), data won’t save you here :). I’ve written about this before: http://thespinoff.co.nz/featured/15-09-2015/politics-the-myths-of-online-voting/
ps: my figure.nz board on the issue, where I include a tiny bit more – namely, stats on online fraud 🙂 http://figure.nz/@nigel/public
Good to get the discussion started with a few graphs, but as previous commenters have noted, the conclusion seems to have been formed before the data were seen.
This has all been very well put by all the previous commenters! In short, declining turnout is not a technology problem…how could it be when the technology hasn’t changed? It is a social and political problem.
As commenters above have already pointed out, we cannot secure these systems reliably enough. And as security expert Bruce Schneier recently noted, the desire to influence national elections is more than just a hypothetical risk: https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2016/07/the_security_of_11.html