The European pilot programs are designed to test solutions to a number of the problems inherent in Internet voting, from confirming the identity of voters to guaranteeing voters’ privacy and protecting online systems against hackers. Identifying voters so that no one can gain access to another person’s login and password information and thereby vote more than once is one of the biggest challenges. Geneva officials sent each voter a card with a 16-digit code and six alphanumeric characters under a scratch-off seal; to vote online, residents entered the codes along with their birth dates and municipalities of origin. Because the cards arrive by mail and voters get new codes for each election, large-scale fraud is difficult, according to Michel Chevallier, the project’s communication manager.Italy expects to use smart cards to identify voters. Plans are already in motion to replace Italians’ national identity cards over the next few years with cards that include a silicon chip that stores personal identification data. A Milan-based partnership sponsored by the European Commission is building an online voting system that will allow Italians to pass their cards through electronic readers, enter their passwords, and vote.
Preventing hackers from gaining access to voting data as it travels over the Internet is another concern, one that banks and e-commerce companies such as Amazon.com know well. Geneva’s system encrypts both votes and voters’ identities to make in-transit data impenetrable to intruders; Italy’s pilot program is using a similar approach. The United Kingdom is considering a different twist: each voter in a test district would receive a unique code for each candidate. Even if hackers intercepted voting data, they would not know how to interpret the codes or adjust them to alter election results, explains Waller.
Once votes arrive and are finally recorded in a central database, they still need protection from hackers who might steal information on who voted for whom or tamper with results. The plan in Geneva is to separate people’s identifying information from their votes and scramble the order of the votes, making it “impossible” to trace how people voted, according to Chevallier. “Safety procedures never link a voter and the content of his or her vote,” he says.