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Nick Clegg announces date for voting reform referendum, as VeriSign claims that online voting will be the norm but will be difficult for the UK to implement

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In a statement outlining plans for a referendum on the use of the Alternative Vote system in the UK, deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg admitted that ‘more and more people realised that our political system is broken and needs to be fixed'.

Among his aims were to ‘speed up the implementation of individual voter registration' and ‘that it is important to avoid asking people to keep traipsing to the ballot box'.

On a referendum on the voting process, Clegg said the date for the referendum in the bill will be 5th May 2011, ‘to give the system a new legitimacy'. He said: “Surely when dissatisfaction with politics is so great, one of our first acts must be to give people their own say over something as fundamental as how they elect their MPs?

“I understand that this announcement will raise questions on all sides of this House – these are profound changes. But let me just say this: yes there are technical issues that will need to be scrutinised and approached with care as these bills pass through Parliament.

“But ensuring that elections are as fair and democratic as possible is a matter of principle above all else. These are big, fundamental reforms we are proposing, but we are all duty bound to respond to public demand for political reform. That is how we restore people's faith in their politics once again.”

Earlier this year, SC Magazine looked at the potential of an online voting system and how it would work in the UK. Commenting, Phil D'Angio, online security expert at VeriSign, claimed that as electronic voting is already popular in social networking, sports and gaming sites, where the opportunity to participate is optional, the concept of enabling electronic voting excites those politicians and government officials motivated to energise the electorate because it will make voting more accessible and convenient.

He said: “Now, can we take that a step further and extend it to government programs?  Without question, the technology to provide a safe, reliable and convenient environment to facilitate electronic voting transactions can be provided.  But in order to be credible, the systems providing this option need to be trusted and access to them needs to be based on high assurance identities.

“The value proposition needs to be developed and supported by the government, and they need to effectively communicate its benefits to the electorate if it is going to be a success.  In regions where governments have installed a national PKI programme, I see voting online becoming the norm.”

He said that having had discussions on electronic voting, government officials always want to know where the cost savings are. While the process is simple in environments where the country runs a national ID scheme and supports strongly authenticated credentials for existing services.

D'Angio said: “It is a different story in environments where a national ID scheme or strong credentialing program is absent. In order for the UK to implement an electronic voting campaign it would need to issue credentials to its electorate.  Developing the business case and value proposition needed to undertake this kind of effort to support electronic voting alone would be very difficult.

“Electronic voting is part of a number of use-cases that justify national ID programs, and requires the highest level of practical authentication. It needs to be considered in parallel with other e-government programs designed to reduce costs and increase access.”

Looking at security specifically, D'Angio said that security concerns will always be of paramount importance when considering the practicality of an online voting system.

“Concerns over privacy are likely to be strongly expressed by certain people. It is more important to understand that existing voting programs have personal data responsibilities already; they know who you are, who you vote for, where you vote and what your party affiliation is,” said D'Angio.

“With this in mind, the question of whether or not the government can gather your personal information through online voting lessens in importance. What could potentially overcome any security issues, though, is the promise of speed and convenience. By being able to vote online, we could vote from abroad, at home, the office or even in flight, potentially encouraging a much greater voter turnout.

“It is practical to ensure that electronic voting programs are highly secure, trusted environments where privacy should be a focus. My hope is that privacy experts will adopt a supportive position on electronic voting. In my view, their support is critical for the successful introduction of these programs.”

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