A Low-Cost Tamper-Proof Electronic Voting System for Developing Nations
I got a few interesting blog entries about the editorial "Gone in 60 Seconds," which explored my misgivings about the electronic voting systems currently being used here in the US, but the most interesting response was an e-mail from Alex Weir, a Scottish-born computer consultant who now lives most of the time in Zimbabwe. After having spent a good portion of his life developing agricultural hardware and computer systems for use in developing economies throughout Africa, Mr Weir has turned his considerable skills to the problem of creating a affordable, secure voting system that was appropriate for use in developing nations.
Mr Weir's thesis is that since cell phones are in widespread use in even the poorest nations, they present a remarkable opportunity to serve as a high-tech voting platform -- if the proper security could be provided to protect both voters and their votes. The system he proposes is so intriguing that I've given over this week's editorial slot to his idea. Weir's brief article below outlines a system that, at least in theory, allows a cell phone to become a completely secure, tamper-proof voting machine that's beyond the reach of the turbulent local politics that can plague both developed and developing nations alike.
Although this low-cost system was originally conceived to bring direct democracy to poor countries, the security and flexibility it offers might even make it an attractive alternative to the cumbersome, tamper-prone electronic systems we've recently adopted here. From what I have read here and on Mr Weir's web site, the technical concept is quite sound and the only obstacles lie in the political/organizational realms. But since I'm not even close to an expert on these matters, I'd welcome your thoughts. As always, you can e-mail me here, but I think we'd all benefit more if you posted your comments, criticisms, and ideas on the original blog post. I'll be eagerly awaiting your comments, and will be sure to reply to them if I can think of something intelligent to say.
- Lee Goldberg, Sr. Section Editor, analogZONE
SEEV (SMS External Encrypted Voting) is a concept and a system which is designed to:
- Remove dictators and others who fraud elections to gain power and/or to stay in power (usually for financial gain and/or to obtain immunity from prosecution)
- Reassure voters and parties that the election which they just won or lost was in fact free and fair
There are 4 elements to SEEV:
- Voting by SMS/text using mobile telephone or satellite telephone. It is planned that each mobile phone in the country will be used by up to 100 people for voting during the voting period (which may last up to 5 or 7 days, instead of the usual 1-2 days using traditional paper elections)
- Processing of the incoming SMS/text message at a single global data processing center, which is external to the country which is voting (international processing center -- IPC). This center should operate under a license from the United Nations or some other independent neutral organization who can guarantee its integrity, impartiality, and untouchability are of the highest conceivable standard
- Encryption of the vote using old-fashioned and uncrackable one-time-pad (OTP) technology, so that even local and international intelligence services cannot read which way a voter is voting nor distort that vote into a vote for another candidate. The OTP technology is implemented by the issuing of PIN-mailer-type envelopes against national ID card, or document. The voters' roll remains the preserve of the national government, who pass on a data file to the IPC which contains a list of national ID number and constituency for eligible voters
- There is an encrypted confirmation message which is sent back to the voter to confirm that his or her vote reached the IPC and was successfully processed. The voter de-encrypts that confirmation message using the same OTP encryption technology which he or she used to send the vote
SEEV is a flexible concept with a number of options.
Steps to the implementation of SEEV:
- Creation of the necessary software for SMS routing, for OTP/envelope printing, for database processing, for the envelope distribution process, and for the electoral register export and import
- Creation of the necessary training materials for voter education (multi-language), and for the envelope distribution process
- Running one or several presidential and/or parliamentary (general) elections in one or more 3rd-world countries, with the external voting center probably not at that stage under full United Nations License
- Adoption of the scheme by the Security Council or the UN General Assembly as recommended or mandatory for all 3rd-world countries or indeed for all countries regardless of economic status
The Present Stage Of The Process
The concept was conceived late July 2006. During the period September 2006 through 14 November 2006, almost every relevant international body has been contacted. The response from many has been disappointingly neutral or even negative. But 6 persons who are influential members of powerful international organizations have been positive. They are not named in this document at this point in time.
Alex can be contacted at email@example.com and +44 (0) 7806 711 022