Towards an Electronic Democracy

By Dean

T he electoral deadlock of in the US Presidential elections for 2000 could provide enough impetus to finally move ahead in the direction of direct popular electronic elections.

An electronic democracy would revitalize our institutions and empower the electorate in ways that are now possible due to the emergence of digital electronics and the Internet.

We need a standard, secure and reliable Internet Access smart Card (IAC). A secure card would provide for digital signatures from the citizens, in the form of an smart card with an embedded Java encryption processor. Such cards are in use today as smart credit cards in financial applications, and as access cards for touch screen electronic voting machines. 

The smart card would contain a digital matrix containing the representation of the citizen's thumbprint, in read-only memory. When the card is issued, a central identification bureau would verify that the citizen does not have a second card, with a different identification number, by comparing his thumbprint to those on the central ID database.

A PIN number would be selected by the citizen at the time the card is issued, which would then be used for commercial transactions. A PIN number does not guarantee that the citizen is physically in possession of the IAC, it simply insures that a person who knows the card's PIN number is using the ID card.

A higher level of security would involve using the citizen's thumbprint at the IAC itself. The IAC's Java processor would verify that the thumbprint on the smart card matches the thumbprint of the citizen using the device. This level of access could be legally binding for public transactions, such as elections, referendum and other high security applications.

The IAC could be a used at a PC at the citizen's home or office, or it may be a wireless WAP access point certified to the electoral level. Since the IAC would be used for both public and private transactions, it must be available at all times, for all citizens. A right to internet access using an IAC must be guaranteed, by legally requiring a certain maximum distance between voters and their closest Internet Access Point.  

The IAC could also be integrated to a cell phone, so that a secure text message  can be sent to the voting sites, or to commercial sites such as banks.  A cell phone can also be customized to provide for a voice print password, which would be verified against the IAC attached to the phone's smart card slot.

The IAC would enable a secure SSL connection to the Internet, where packets would be routed to their destination, be they public or private systems. Where connections are not possible, mobile voting machines could contain the necessary software to simulate the connection to the Internet. The resulting information would be replicated to the network destination when the voting machine itself is downloaded,  transported to a network connection port, or when it establishes a network connection.

A denial of service attack on a public electoral system, by flooding the system with random messages from multiple sources, could be thwarted by assigning a polling sequence to those access points certified at the electoral level. In a polling sequence, only those access points that are certified as electoral devices would be called, and interrogated for electoral results, on a scheduled basis, perhaps once a minute, using non-TCP protocols, such as DLC under SNA.

The GUI interface to the voting system could also be legally defined at a basic level, with a touch screen interface for stand-alone voting machines. However, if a citizen wishes to use his/her PC as a registered access point, the GUI choice should be up to the user, not legislated as a standard. The resulting information must be transmitted in a consistent format for all GUI's, by using secure XML messages that have been defined in DTD standards.

In the convergent devices of the future, the best access point to the voting system could be the home television set, with the remote control used as a pointing device to move a cursor on the screen, and the thumbprint reader integrated onto the remote control device with a slot for the IAC card. 

We can envision a day when elections are done on real time, as the candidate's debates are being broadcast. The voting tally could appear on a status line at the bottom of the live image, and count the actual votes assigned to each of the candidates, in real time.

Voting could take place over several weeks, allowing the citizens to change their vote according to the results of the ongoing political campaign. Since the results would be tallied in a central electoral computer, perhaps at the state level, the citizens could change their vote by simply updating their registers on the electoral system, using a certified access point and their IAC.

Active democratic rule would be achieved when referendum are run on important issues of the day, and the results become binding on the legislature. We could some day have a People's Virtual Congress, which would become the fourth state power.

One can hope for this to become reality some day. However, today's hegemonic power based system is so contentious that there is little chance that this will be enacted, at least by the present US winner take all Legislature.

May G_d grant us the day when we no longer rely on power brokers and intermediaries, but are empowered to create our own destiny.

Atlanta, GA
November 15, 2000

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