Internet Voting: It seems too good to be true, and it is

Written by Allison Gordon, Common Cause intern on June 21, 2016


Editor’s note: This report grows out of a June 6, policy discussion at the National Press Club hosted by EPIC (Electronic Privacy Information Center).  The discussion featured speakers from the Brennan Center for Justice, Brown University, the UN Human Rights Council, Verified Voting, the University of Maryland, and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

In less than one generation, the internet has become as central to American life as the automobile, the telephone and the television. We spend time with friends online, we shop online, we even file our taxes and manage our banking online. Why not vote online?

Its advocates argue that Internet or electronic balloting will make voting more accessible. Can’t make it to the polls? Open your laptop for a minute or press a couple of buttons on your smartphone or tablet on your way to work. Done.

It sounds good (particularly to a certain demographic), but online voting raises critical privacy issues. For now at least, there’s no system that would guarantee that electronic votes remain secret and no way to make electronic voting impervious to hackers.

According to extensive research done by the National Institute for Standards and Technology, malware on personal computers could compromise ballot secrecy and the U.S. lacks a public infrastructure that could keep voting secure. Against that backdrop, online voting could undercut the right to a secret ballot -- a right protected by most states since the late 19th century, when some people were being bribed and even killed over their votes. That’s not something we want to bring back.

Online voting raises additional problems that would have to be addressed before it could be viable. Pamela Smith, president of Verified Voting, has suggested that there would be issues over how to access an online system, as well as about what sort of personal information one would have to provide. Districts also would have to adopt audit and recount procedures, which are unreliable with current technology.

Perhaps most critically, an online system would have to address hacking. Electronic voting leaves elections vulnerable to cyberattacks from both foreign powers and lone hackers, potentially resulting in manipulation and dispute. In Washington D.C., an internet voting test in 2010 was hacked and under external control in less than two days.

The fight to protect voting rights and make voting accessible is vital for all Americans. However tempting, internet voting cannot be implemented until proven systems are in place to protect voter privacy and election integrity.

Office: Common Cause National

Issues: Voting and Elections

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