Online Voting: A Bad Idea

June 4, 2014

More than 30 U.S. states and territories have some form of online voting, write Bruce McConnell, former deputy under secretary for cybersecurity at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and Pamela Smith, president of the Verified Voting Foundation.

Whether voting by email or on a website directly, online voting is growing more popular in the United States:

  • Generally, online voting is only allowed for certain classes of voters, such as the military or absentee voters. Alaska, however, allows anyone to vote online.
  • Just recently, the state of Utah passed a law allowing disabled voters to vote online.
  • An estimated 3 million Americans are eligible for online voting today.

But is it really a good idea? Online voting is fraught with potential problems, as hackers could change electoral results and manipulate elections, leaving no evidence behind. The experience of Estonia, which leads the world in online voting, is a prime example. Twenty-five percent of Estonian voters vote online. In May, a team of independent security experts discovered significant security vulnerabilities in the voting system, concluding that elections could be stolen and recommending that the country cease using the system immediately.

Computers and mobile phones can be attacked in a number of ways, making it difficult to create safeguards that protect against every form of infiltration. Still, online voting vendors are lobbying lawmakers to pass online voting legislation, despite security concerns.

  • In 2004, the Department of Defense cancelled an online voting project for soldiers because it could not ensure that the system would be secure.
  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the federal agency responsible for researching internet voting, concluded in a 2011 report that secure internet voting was not feasible.
  • The NIST report cited a number of problems: protecting against software attacks on personal computers, authenticating voters and ensuring that the systems were auditable. No current, or proposed, technologies offered such solutions.

While improving voter access and reducing taxpayer costs are well-intentioned reasons behind online voting, providing voters with an unsecure method of casting their ballots does no one any favors, say McConnell and Smith.

Source: Bruce McConnell and Pamela Smith, "Hack the Vote: The Perils of the Online Ballot Box," Wall Street Journal, May 28, 2014.

 

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