IT security is vital for the democratic process

Many countries are digitizing the electoral process. Associate professor Carsten Schürmann explores how it can be done without jeopardizing voters' trust.

Carsten SchürmannComputer Science DepartmentResearchIT securitydemocracy

What is your current research about?

My research is on IT security. The last years, I’ve been focusing on the use of information technology in the democratic process. Computers are gradually replacing manual parts of the democratic process by allowing voters to register or vote digitally, by tallying results etc. I investigate how these developments affect the ability to provide the public with evidence that the election was trustworthy.  Trust is central to democracy.  Voters who do not trust the electoral process will be less likely to go to vote. Lately, I have been studying IT security more broadly.

What have you discovered so far?

In contrast to common belief, the main challenge with using election technologies is not as much building and securing voting systems, but building and preserving the collective trust in the election result.  Elections are high-valued targets, and at the same time election technologies tend to be complex and therefore prone to programming error and vulnerable to malicious attacks. We have discovered ways to check the quality of technology and ways to check the evidence supporting a particular election result. In practical terms, we have discovered vulnerabilities in US election machines and Danish election systems. At the same time, we have piloted post-election audits in Demark as a way to build confidence among the electorate.

What do you find most exciting about your field?

It is how important IT security has become in elections and how difficult and deep the research questions still are. When it comes to electronic voting, for example, the most exciting thing for me is, that we want to protect the secrecy of the vote while making sure that the election systems are so transparent that the public can be provided with evidence in the election result. The secrecy and the transparency contradict each other, and currently there are no trustworthy solutions to that. However, I think that in the future, we will find a form of digital evidence that can replace pen and paper. It will take some time, though.

Further information

Jari Kickbusch, phone 7218 5304, email

Carsten Schürmann, Associate Professor, email