Wheelings & Dealings: Vote Online? Scytl Wants to Make it So

By Steve Anderson July 10, 2014

Elections are a hallmark of a free society, with people getting the ability to choose their leadership. But elections these days still possess some issues that keep people from taking part; physically going to a polling place, waiting in lines of interminable scope, and then filling out a paper ballot by hand, for example. Companies like Scytl are working to bring the process of elections online, a concept that has been eagerly sought since there was an online.

Scytl actually managed to net a $20 million investment from SAP Ventures, all in a bid to help move the election process online. The company has several key focuses—more efficient elections with election night reporting tools, more accessible and transparent elections with voter registration and voting services tools, and so on—but perhaps its primary focus is the one key worry that springs most readily to mind when the topic of online elections comes up: security. With elections meaning what elections commonly do, security therefore becomes an absolute must and explains at least in part why we've used paper ballots for as long as we have. Scytl has responded to this need by developing what the company refers to as “election-specific cryptographic security technology protected by more than 40 international patents and patent applications.”

The company's founding goes clear back to 2001, and only recently—back in April—netted $40 million from Paul Allen's Vulcan Capital. But with countries like Norway shutting down e-voting experiments—mostly on the strength of security, or perceived lack thereof—it's easy to wonder if the recent $20 million from SAP Ventures is just throwing good money after bad.

There is actually quite a bit to like about the idea of driving elections online. After all, why not offer a way for users to vote for favored candidates right from home? We shop from home, we work from home, what is so terrifying about the thought of voting from home? It might well drive turnout, making voting the kind of thing that can be added to a day as easily as “watch a dozen cute cat videos before bed.” Voter turnout is already pretty low, so a measure designed to drive turnout might be a welcome one. But at the same time, it's not an idea without a note of peril. Elections must be held in the strictest confidence and reflect as closely as possible the will of the people, or at the very least, the will of the people who show up and vote. Imagine if a group like, say, Anonymous suddenly got hold of voting control systems; our next president might well be Rick Astley or even, in a real blast from the past, Guy Fawkes. Worse, what if the votes are traced back to IP addresses? Might it then be possible to discover who voted for whom, and use such information against the voter?

Online voting is a major step, and as such, shouldn't be taken lightly. While there's certainly room in our lives for online voting tools, such tools must be carefully protected so as to ensure that the will of the voting public is correctly transferred. If Scytl can pull off such a feat, then more power to it. Until then, paper ballots will continue to do the job.




Edited by Maurice Nagle

Contributing TechZone360 Writer

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