Voting With the Click of a Mouse | Election 2005 | DW | 20.09.2002
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Election 2005

Voting With the Click of a Mouse

Casting your vote over the Internet with the mere click of the mouse sounds good. But the government has to overcome security and financial hurdles before online voting in Germany becomes a reality.

Whether it's him you want or Schröder, just clicking them into office would be easier

Whether it's him you want or Schröder, just clicking them into office would be easier

Do you dread waiting in line at a polling station for your turn to place the all-important cross on the ballot papers?

Internet voting could be the answer. It’s practical, easy and saves time.

Only problem is, it’s not here yet.

But as Germans head to their respective polling districts on Sunday, they can rest easy in the knowledge that the next time they go to vote in four years, they can simply head to any polling station of their choice.

Ambitious plans for digital voting

The German interior ministry has now contracted a working group to take care of the technological aspects of networking all 80,000 polling districts in Germany by 2006, thus making internet voting a second option to traditional voting at the poll station.

Going a step further, the government ambitiously also hopes to enable all German citizens to vote over their own computers from the comfort of their homes by 2010.

Advocates of online voting argue that it could help speed up polling results, make the tallying more accurate, be more cost-friendly in the long run and contribute towards an increasingly mobile society.

Going will not be smooth

But making digital voting a reality is easier said than done.

Security concerns are the main hindrances that could block the speedy realisation of internet voting.

Of special importance is ensuring that only eligible voters cast their votes and only once at that.

The government also wants to emphasise that voting online is principally an added option – no one will be forced to vote over the internet, but can always choose to vote the traditional way by personally going to the poll station.

Privacy and money concerns

Protecting the anonymity of the voter is another serious security worry.

The digital vote functions much like the traditional vote – the ballots are available over the internet, and all the citizen needs to do is place a cross with the click of the mouse and then confirm with a so-called signature card.

But it’s vital that the recipient of the ballot is not able to trace the sender. Research is still being carried out on the signature card to make it 100 percent fool-proof.

Christoph Meinel, a technology expert at the University of Trier told the German news agency DPA that everyone should be sure that no software producer, network operator or even a virus could affect the voter’s ballot in an unauthorised manner.

"It shouldn’t be possible to trace the ballot paper of a voter, vote more than once or to change a vote," Meinel said.

Computer engineering experts also believe that online voting for federal elections would cost the country dearly.

They estimate that creating a signature card and a reading machine for more than 60 million eligible voters would cost several hundred million euro.

Online voting not entirely new

Online voting is not an entirely new concept and is already being tested in instances such as voting a board of directors in a company or a student council at a university.

One of the first complete online votes to be carried out in Germany was at the university of Osnabrück, where 11,000 students elected members of the student parliament and their representative in the university council with a mouse-click.

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