07 March 2018

S5M-10407 Electronic and Internet Voting

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-10407, in the name of Stewart Stevenson, on electronic and internet voting. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament acknowledges that there is an increasingly wide spectrum of applications for digital technology, including those related to internet shopping, banking, travel and automated supermarket checkouts; understands that the latest digital technology has the potential to be developed for electronic and internet voting and deliver electors flexibility in their choice of voting method; considers that the traditional paper voting method has remained virtually unchanged since 1872 and has yet to benefit from advancements in technology; notes the calls by the Institution of Engineering and Technology for government to embrace the latest knowledge in electronic voting, which it believes will encourage more young people in the Banffshire and Buchan Coast constituency and across Scotland to vote and help reduce the costs of the traditional paper voting system; recognises that there are important security considerations relating to confidentiality and eligibility that must first be resolved; believes that when these issues are resolved and public confidence is earned, electronic voting has the potential to deliver lower cost elections and improve voter turnout; acknowledges what it sees as the opportunity presented by the Scottish Government’s consultation on electoral reform to further investigate the potential benefits of electronic and internet voting systems, and notes the calls on individuals and organisations to take part.


Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I start by drawing attention to my entry in the register of members’ interests—particularly my membership of the Institution of Engineering and Technology, which is promoting e-voting, and my membership of the Association for Computing Machinery, which is leading a debate on the subject in the USA, in particular.

A professor of computer science at Stanford University, David Dill, who is the founder of the Verified Voting Foundation, captured the challenge of electronic voting—indeed, of any form of voting—when he wrote:

“The winners of an election are usually satisfied with the outcome, but it is often more challenging to persuade the losers (and their supporters) that they lost. To that end, it is not sufficient that election results be accurate. The public must also know the results are accurate, which can only be achieved if conduct of the election is sufficiently transparent that candidates, the press, and the general public can satisfy themselves that no errors or cheating have occurred.”

Until 1872, voting here was done by attending the polling place, orally advising the returning officer for whom one wished to vote and seeing them record that against one’s name in a ledger. Many of those ledgers survive today. Is that a perfect system that would have met Professor Dill’s challenge? No. The ledgers often show that, at the end of voting, there was debate as to what an individual elector had said or whether the clerk had correctly recorded his—in those days it was always “his”—preference.

The change to the use of voting papers and a ballot box was made solely because changes in the franchise qualification led to a dramatic rise in the number of electors and oral voting was too cumbersome. Today, we have a system that works pretty well, in which those who vote have confidence and which broadly allows losers, in particular, to observe the process and be reconciled to the fact that their loss derives from their having failed to win the argument rather than from the voting system having cheated them.

The Open Rights Group says that any voting system must be secure, anonymous and verifiable, and technologists accept those tests. Professor Dill quoted the ACM, which stated that

“voting systems should enable each voter to inspect a physical record to verify that his or her vote has been accurately cast and to serve as an independent check on the result”.

Professor Kaliyamurthie, the head of the department of information technology at India’s Barath university in Chennai, wrote that

“Internet voting is about making the act of voting as convenient as possible”

but qualified that statement by adding that

“this voting channel introduces risks to some of the fundamental principles of democratic systems.”

The question that I pose is whether more convenient voting is of value. Would greater convenience enhance the democratic process?

I have heard some people say that those who do not make the effort to get out of their armchairs to vote do not deserve the vote, but I take a different view. Every political party—and every independent candidate, for that matter—devotes an enormous amount of effort to getting people out of their armchairs and into the polling places. However, there are three numbers that should challenge us: 53, 44 and 34. Fifty-three per cent of people on the electoral roll voted “armchair” in the 2017 council elections, 40 per cent did so in the most recent Scottish Parliament elections and a third stayed away from the 2017 Westminster vote.

The IET has called for the Government to embrace the latest in electronic voting. Can technology help to boost turnout, and can it do so securely, with voter anonymity and in a way that is verifiable by lay observers?

What helps turnout? When I stood in 2003, our local voter database included 6,000 people who had committed to vote for the Scottish National Party in the previous two contacts with the party but had failed to vote in the two most recent elections. We concluded that we needed to get those people to vote. A huge number of activists spent considerable time knocking on the doors of those 6,000 people, and we got 4,000 of them to sign up for a postal vote.

Typically, about 70 per cent of postal voters actually vote. It is fair to say that there is imprecision and uncertainty about that, because we can only infer the number of postal voters from looking at those who voted in person and how many postal votes were issued, thereby indirectly concluding how many votes were postal votes. Nevertheless, the rate of voting is clearly higher among postal voters.

In 2003, which was an election in which the SNP’s vote in Scotland was heading downwards—pretty sharply downwards, it is worth saying—our local vote went up by 3,000. Members might care to think about that. We signed up 4,000 postal voters, and I assert that 70 per cent of postal voters vote. Therefore, I draw a line between our effort to sign up 4,000 people for postal votes and the increase of 3,000 in our vote. People with a postal vote have 21 days over which they can vote from their armchair, which might be one of the reasons why our vote shot up. Of course, the excellent candidate and terrific campaign in Banff and Buchan contributed to the result, but I think that making it easier for people to vote helped.

Have countries that have adopted internet voting seen benefits? Do their systems meet the tests of security, anonymity and verifiability? There are mixed results, but there is substantial evidence of increased voting.

Eindhoven University of Technology researchers de Vries and Bokslag assessed the Estonian system and the Dutch internet voting system against eight criteria, which, in essence, encompassed the three tests to which I have referred. Estonia, which is generally regarded as the most advanced country online, following its experience of suffering a cyber attack from the Russians shortly after becoming independent, did not pass the Open Rights Group’s three tests; it passed only two of them and met only half of the Eindhoven researchers’ criteria. The Dutch system met only one of the researchers’ eight criteria, and it did so very marginally.

The key difficulty in any electronically aided voting system is verification—that is, allowing the observation of every step in the process from voter registration through voting and counting votes to the determination of the final result. Is that an unsolvable problem? No. However, it is probably a problem that is not yet solved.

I cannot describe my solution in my remaining 100 words, but it would leave paper as the medium for each vote that is submitted for counting and would allow secure submission from smartphone to counting centre and verification by voter and observers.

The Government’s consultation on electoral reform closes on Monday—I am sure that the minister will refer to it. Members will be able to read my submission to when I publish it on Monday, on my website at I hope that other members will respond to the consultation.

There are seven unsolvable maths problems—the millennium problems. If someone solves one, they win $1 million. I am working on one of them—the queens problem—and I think that I am halfway there. The problem that we face in relation to electronic voting is by no means unsolvable.


Stewart Stevenson
does not gather, use or
retain any cookie data.

However Google who publish for us, may do.
fios ZS is a name registered in Scotland for Stewart Stevenson

  © Blogger templates The Professional Template by 2008

Back to TOP