After discussions with many Grimsby residents, it seems that they have genuine concerns over the choice (and push) to use electronic voting in October’s municipal election. Does electronic voting have the integrity that a traditional ballot does? We say “NO!”.
We came across a recent article in the Guelph Mercury Tribune that looks at electronic voting and it is interesting to say the least. If you have the appetite to read, follow the link at the end of that article and read the residents input in the Council agenda from 2017. In the end, Guelph City Council defeated the motion to allow electronic voting. The article is at the following link: https://www.guelphmercury.com/opinion-story/8905251-is-e-voting-a-good-idea-for-guelph-
Here in Grimsby, electronic and telephone voting opens on October 10th and closes with the traditional physical poll at Town Hall on October 22nd. All eligible voters will be receiving a Voter Information Letter (VIL) that contains the PIN code needed to avail themselves of the internet/telephone voting option. While there is a threat of a possible mail strike, the municipalities in West Niagara say they have it covered. You can read more about that in Richard Hutton’s NTW article by clicking this link.
For the provision of electronic/telephone voting, the Town has retained the services of Simply Voting Inc. The website for the Grimsby residents to cast their ballots (starting October 10) is already up at https://grimsby.simplyvoting.com
Lets backtrack some to the Admin & Finance meeting of July 10, 2017 where Simply Voting gave their presentation/sales pitch to the Committee. As a person well versed in IT, I could not help but roll my eyes at the techno-babble and security practices (some of them poor by industry standards) meant to razzle and dazzle the Committee members.
Unfortunately as per the current Committee regulations, members of the public can not speak unless they are a delegation or there is a “public meeting” component… so public questions to the presenter were not allowed.
In upcoming posts, we will be exploring some very valid concerns on the integrity of electronic voting… but we won’t leave you hanging until then. Lets take a first glance at the online voting system that merits consideration.
For those who might not be Internet-savvy, you may wonder what the little lock and “https” means in your browser’s location bar, such as below:
This means the site you are on has been secured with encryption using a digital certificate (SSL) and “secret keys” on the website. If you click on the lock you can view information on the security certificate being used. For example, here is the certificate for the Town’s Simply Voting site:
Notice the asterisk *, the term “wildcard” and no mention of Grimsby? This means that Simply Voting can use the same digital certificate for every site and municipality in their system. Our quick survey of multiple municipalities (and there are many) using Simply Voting, the certificate and “digital fingerprint” are the same.
If somewhere along the security chain the “secret keys” to this single wildcard certificate are compromised, then the encryption protection of every voter in every municipality using the system is at risk.
Is a compromise of the keys likely…no.
Is a compromise possible… yes.
Do website keys get compromised… yes.
It is rather mind-boggling that a firm would use a “wildcard” certificate to cover every municipality’s site. A proper and individual certificate for each municipality would cost Simply Voting anywhere from $50 to $100 to purchase. Based on similar contracts and Town requirements, we estimate the contract with the Town is in the ballpark of $30,000 (more on this number in a future post).
If a service provider is cutting corners to save a few dollars and providing a lower level of overall security, it begs the question what else is being skimped on?
If your head is spinning with all the technical stuff… we will leave you to recover.
While electronic voting offers convenience, it comes at a price… integrity of the electoral process. We will go further into this in the coming weeks.
EDIT: TVOntario has a great podcast on the ins and outs of electronic voting. You can listen to it at this link: http://podcasts.tvo.org/the…/audio/2519996_21809191405.mp3