Could e-voting be the future for general elections?
New research from the Universities of Warwick and Newcastle could make e-voting more secure, accessible, and trustworthy for future elections.
E-voting uses electronic devices to cast ballots either onsite at polling stations or online through the Internet. With the right use of technology, e-voting can allow a voter to verify that their vote is properly cast, recorded and tallied – a process known as being ‘end-to-end (E2E) verifiable’.
While not currently permitted in UK general elections, e-voting has already helped decide the nation’s prime minister. A combination of e-voting and paper ballots secured Liz Truss’ victory in the Conservative leadership election. Before Boris Johnson dropped out of the running, plans were in place to use only e-voting for the following leadership election which saw Rishi Sunak take the top spot.
A plain implementation of e-voting without verifiability, also known as “black-box e-voting”, is inherently insecure, but it has seen wide use in general elections in many countries, causing disputes over the election result.
To address this, researchers from the Universities of Warwick and Newcastle have developed a ground-breaking E2E verifiable e-voting technology without tallying authorities, called self-enforcing e-voting, supported by European Research Council, Royal Society and Innovate UK grants. They have received seed investment from Oxford-based Global Initiative, through their Software Incubator programme, and launched a spin-out company, SEEV Technologies Ltd, to develop self-enforcing e-voting systems for real-world elections.
The team have had successful trials, including an exit vote at a polling station in Gateshead as part of the 2019 local elections, which saw more than 100 people casting votes on “dummy candidates” in a mock-up election. A vast majority of participants preferred the e-voting system to traditional voting – deeming it convenient, fast and secure.
In India, a country where e-voting has seen 100% usage in general elections but the result is often challenged for a lack of verifiability, the team worked with New Town Kolkata Development Authority in India to test the E2E voting technology in an online voting trial as part of the 2022 Durga Puja festival celebration. More than 500 people in New Town, Kolkata, voted using mobile phones for the best Puja decoration, showing that e-voting is secure, fully automated and popular with voters.
Professor Feng Hao, Department of Computer Science, University of Warwick, explains how their E2E verifiable e-voting technology works: “Every voter gets a receipt, so they can check that their vote is properly cast, recorded and counted but they cannot use it to prove to a third party how they voted. Take the London skyline picture as an example. The picture is formed of millions of pixels. Each pixel is a receipt, held by a voter. On its own, a pixel does not reveal any information about the vote. However, once all pixels come together, they reveal a picture of the election tally. If an adversary attempts to modify pixels or the tally, the tampering will be publicly evident because the mathematical relations between pixels will fail to be verified.
“One feasible approach would be providing E2E verifiable online voting as an alternative to postal voting. This would mean that those who couldn’t post paper ballots could vote electronically, e.g., using mobile phones with the ability to publicly verify the tallying integrity of the whole election process. Postal votes would still be an option for those who can’t, or won’t, use the tech.”
Stewart Hefferman, CEO of SEEV Technologies, commented: “It is astonishing to think that for the vast majority of the population, the process of exercising their democratic right to vote has not changed significantly in maybe 100 years or more. Today, more than ever, governments, public companies and even small member-based organisations must demonstrate strong governance and be able to prove the integrity of results at elections, AGMs or even awards. Being able to independently discredit false rumours and unfounded allegations is critical. I’m delighted that SEEV Technologies, together with our partners Global Initiative and the Universities of Warwick and Newcastle can now give voters the confidence that all parts of the election process; before, during and after the actual casting of the vote, are demonstrably free from interference and fraud.”
Chris Sinclair, Co-Director of Global Initiative commented: “It brings us great pride to facilitate the seed investment for SEEV Technologies Ltd. At Global Initiative, our Software Incubator exists to champion and accelerate technologies like these – innovations with the potential to reshape our world and its societies. We are confident that the implications of end-to-end verifiable electronic voting will be transformative, enabling secure and seamless voting access even in the most far-flung corners of the globe. This is a development that, we believe, will become a staple of our collective future.”
Gareth Nixon, Co-Director of Global Initiative, added: “Our well-established partnerships with Warwick and Newcastle Universities have been invaluable in ensuring a fluid transition from innovation to enterprise, ably aided by the exceptional team at Warwick Innovations.”
Notes to Editors
University of Warwick press office contact:
Communications Officer | Press & Media Relations | University of Warwick
About Global Initiative
Global Initiative, an Oxford-based, full-service digital and software development agency, has earned a reputation for its award-winning, two-decade long service. Founded by Gareth and Chris, the team excels in crafting world-recognised brands and launching online platforms swiftly and proficiently for high-profile clients such as the BBC, Audi, the NHS, Warwick University, and Oxford University. Alongside these accomplishments, the agency launched the GI Software Incubator, a project accelerator utilising advanced software development skills to fast-track initiatives in high-impact sectors. We also champion the GI Social Fund, which dedicates £100k p.a. to support high-impact social enterprises and projects. In alignment with organisations committed to instigating positive change in social, environmental, educational, and medical fields, Global Initiative, ISO 27001 and ISO 9001 certified, is your strategic partner in innovative digital solutions.
18 June 2023