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2009/11/9

University of Basque Country research proposes improvements for electronic voting by Internet

What are known as Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) can enhance the concept of democracy, boosting public participation. The most widespread manner of gathering the opinions of the public is through the electoral process. Over recent decades, thanks to ICTs, new systems for improving these election processes have been put forward.

University of Basque Country (UPV/EHU) researcher, Ms Maider Huarte Arrayago, focused her PhD on systems for electronic voting by Internet. The work, entitled Internet Darabilten Boto Sistema Elektronikoetan unibertsaltasun eta askatasun printzipioen azterketa eta proposamenak (Study of and proposals on the principles of universal suffrage and liberty in systems of electronic voting by Internet).

For elections to be democratic they have to employ a system of votes that complies with the principles of universal suffrage, equality, liberty and secrecy. In other words, all electors are able to cast their vote under the same conditions; each has only one vote, with this vote electors can give their opinion with liberty; and the voting option of any individual voter is not made known.

All this is a challenge when using electronic and computer technologies, given that it is no easy task to define appropriate measures so that the digital votes generated with such technologies are not linked with the digital traces left in the system by electors. Today there are a number of proposals for electronic voting systems, all based on techniques of cryptography.

Principles of universal suffrage and liberty

Ms Huarte started her PhD research with the analysis of systems for electronic voting by Internet. As a result of this analysis, she observed that the current systems for electronic voting by Internet complied with the principles of equality and secrecy. To this end, in this work, Ms Huarte studied the principles of universal suffrage and liberty, and proposed a number of changes and improvements.

As regards the principles of liberty, the researcher proposed the following objectives: on the one hand, improving reliability in order to boost the voluntary participation of the electors and to achieve better results and, on the other hand, improve flexibility, thus providing electors with a better way of making their opinion known. As regards universal suffrage, the goals have been twofold: defining a human-machine interface that takes into account the heterogeneity of the capacities of the electors and increasing the mobility of electors without affecting communication protocols.

To achieve these objectives Ms Huarte put forward a number of solutions. Regarding liberty, in order to improve reliability, for example, she reinforced robustness, transparency and the lodging of private complaints. That is, in the system proposed by Huarte, the only thing maintained in secret are the secret passwords to be employed in the protocols. Likewise, she has drawn up the option for making private complaints without compromising the secret of the ballot box. A number of measures have also been established to improve flexibility: she defined systems and protocols that do not affect the digital paper-vote format and the count methodology and, moreover, the reader can interrupt the process of casting the vote at any time and start again.

Regarding the aims of universal suffrage, on the other hand, she proposed enhancing the current interfaces and new ones for the future.

After all these provisions and proposals, Ms Huarte concluded that certain characteristics of the principle of liberty were limited by the cryptographic techniques employed on complying with equality and the right to secrecy. She also observed that, with reference to security, current techniques and tools or their use are not sufficient if the software is not suitably created. That is, if the bases are not implemented appropriately, all that occurs subsequently will not produce the hoped-for benefits. It would be like a dwelling built on inadequate foundations.

Information about the author

Ms Maider Huarte Arrayago (Donostia, 1976) is an engineer in telecommunications. Her PhD leader was Iñaki Goirizelaia Ordorika, rector of the UPV/EHU and member of the Department of Electronics and Telecommunications at the Higher Technical School of Engineering in Bilbao. Currently Ms Huarte gives classes at this Faculty.

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