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E-Vote Your Conscience: Perceptions of Coercion and Vote Buying, and the Usability of Fake Credentials in Online Voting

Louis-Henri Merino, Alaleh Azhir, Haoqian Zhang, Simone Colombo, Bernhard Tellenbach, Vero Estrada-Galiñanes, Bryan Ford
To appear in 45th IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy
May 20-23, 2024


Online voting is attractive for convenience and accessibility, but is more susceptible to voter coercion and vote buying than in-person voting. One mitigation is to give voters fake voting credentials that they can yield to a coercer. Fake credentials appear identical to real ones, but cast votes that are silently omitted from the final tally. An important unanswered question is how ordinary voters perceive such a mitigation: whether they could understand and use fake credentials, and whether the coercion risks justify the costs of mitigation. We present the first systematic study of these questions, involving 150 diverse individuals in the U.S. northeast. All participants “registered” and “voted” in a mock election: 120 were exposed to coercion resistance via fake credentials, the rest forming a control group. Of the 120 participants exposed to fake credentials, 96% understood their use. 53% reported that they would create fake credentials in a real-world voting scenario, given the opportunity. 10% mistakenly voted with a fake credential, however. 22% reported either personal experience with or direct knowledge of coercion or vote-buying incidents. These latter participants rated the coercion-resistant system essentially as trustworthy as in-person voting via hand-marked paper ballots. Of the 150 total participants to use the system, 87% successfully created their credentials without assistance. Therefore, 83% successfully created and properly used their credentials. Participants give a System Usability Scale score of 70.4 — 58th percentile across diverse system studies. Our findings appear to support the importance of the coercion problem in general, and the promise of fake credentials as a possible mitigation, but user error rates remain an important usability challenge for future work.

Full paper: coming soon

Topics: Security Privacy Cryptography Transparency Identity Democracy Voting Usability Bryan Ford