An election or ballot requires a voter roll; a list of all the people who will have a say in the outcome by casting a vote. But if people aren’t voting in person, how do you know who really cast the votes you receive?
Voter authentication means the voter roll includes information about each voter that isn’t easily guessed by other people. Before casting a vote, a voter “authenticates” themselves by entering that secret information. The goal is to reduce the opportunity for voting fraud and protect the legitimacy of the election or ballot result.
What information should be used for voter authentication?
There are no hard and fast rules. The key is that this information isn’t easily guessed by others. A voter’s personal information, like their date of birth, employee number or home address, is useful but not infallible. The most secure method is to generate a secret PIN for each voter and use that in combination with one or more pieces of their personal information. The level and method of voter authentication, and the distribution of voter PIN numbers, is something the returning officer (the person managing the election) should be able to take care of.
How does it work in practice?
You can use declaration postal voting for traditional, mail in ballots. This double envelope system is used by most professional electoral organisations (including GoVote). In a nutshell, a voter completes a ballot paper, puts it in an envelope and then writes their authentication details on the outside of that envelope. This is then placed in a second envelope to maintain confidentiality, and everything is then posted to the returning officer for counting. The declaration postal voting method also lends itself to anonymous or secret ballots, as the envelopes (with voter details) and the ballot papers can be separated and batched immediately prior to counting.
Other Voting Channels
Electronic voting methods like online, SMS and telephone are increasingly popular for many reasons, include cost-effectiveness, efficiency and increased oversight. These channels offer secret ballots, and authentication that is both highly flexible, secure and automated. Due to the complexity of setting these up, they are generally not DIY options. This is where most people will defer to an experienced third party provider with professional voting software, who can help customise, setup and run the election on their behalf as returning officer.