Should we consider e-voting?

Posted by on Jan 4, 2016 in Current Issues | 0 comments

vote buttonAs we approach an election, we hear people asking why they can’t vote online using their personal computer or mobile devices, just as we do banking. People favoring e-voting argue that Internet voting offers greater speed and convenience, especially for overseas and military voters. However, computer and network experts point out that online voting is dangerous to the integrity of U.S. elections. They say that the security, privacy, and transparency requirements we set for offline elections cannot all be met with any practical technology. states the problem this way:

While the appeal of Internet voting is obvious, the risks, unfortunately, are not, at least to many decision makers. While very few votes have ever been cast in American elections directly through a web interface, many states already allow military and overseas ballots to be returned via fax and email. Yet voted ballots sent via Internet simply cannot be made secure and make easy and inviting targets for attackers ranging from lone hackers to foreign governments seeking to undermine U.S. elections.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology still warns that online voting has cybersecurity risks, and computer scientist Barbara Simons notes that malware, insider threats, and other security risks make Internet voting systems inherently vulnerable to attack.

The business news website Fast Company revealed one risk that proponents might not have considered when it reported that data on 191 million voters was leaked online from publicly-accessible databases owned by insurance claim management software company Systema Software.

Arizona is the only state to have tried an Internet portal, for its Democratic primary in 2000; however, it was plagued with problems. In the other states, voting is by e-mail attachment or fax. However, 29 states and the District of Columbia authorize online voter registration.

E-lected is a Canadian blog that tracks electronic voting initiatives around the world. Here are some of their observations:

  • In December, Bulgaria held a referendum on the question, “Do you support that remote electronic voting is enabled when elections and referendums are held?” Reports vary on the outcome, but it appears that overall, 69.5% to 72.5% voted in favor. In overseas polling stations, the yes vote exceeded 90%. In the district with the least support for electronic voting, Shoumen, the initiative still passed by 57.8%. Voter turnout for this referendum doubled compared to the last referendum, held in 2013. The vote is not legally binding, but does obligate the Bulgarian National Assembly to further debate the issue and “keep the conversation moving forward.”
  • In October, Switzerland voted to deny access to e-voting technology in 9 cantons, because of deficiencies in a Unisys-developed system that would have compromised the secrecy of the vote. However, the decision was against the specified solution, not e-voting in general.
  • The small Baltic nation of Estonia has used e-voting in five elections since 2005. Voters use the nation’s mandatory national identification card to vote online. Voters can also change their vote online prior to closing time on election day. Estonia continues to improve the technology by making server code open-source and developing a means of establishing electronic residency. The government estimates that Estonia will have 10 million e-Residents by the year 2020 (The country’s physical population is 1.3 million). There have been allegations that the system was tampered with in the 2011 municipal elections, when a Tartu University student found a security hole that would allow a virus to block votes for certain candidates without the voter’s knowledge.

Will we get Internet voting? Eventually, but many technical hurdles still need to be overcome before e-voting is as safe, secure, private, and transparent as the systems we are using today.

Want to learn more about how elections work?

In this post, we walk you through the process of how elections are run.

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