New Report: Internet Voting Threatens Ballot Secrecy

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  • David Vance
Voter Privacy in 32 States Compromised by Votes Marked, Sent Through Email, Fax and Internet Portals

Casting a secret ballot in the upcoming election might not be so secret or secure depending on where – and how – you vote, according to a new report, The Secret Ballot at Risk: Recommendations for Protecting Democracy. The report was coauthored by three leading organizations focused on voting technology, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), Verified Voting and Common Cause.

Caitriona Fitzgerald, State Policy Coordinator for EPIC and a co-author of the report, said, “The secret ballot is a core value in all 50 states. Yet states are asking some voters to waive this right. That threatens voting freedom and election integrity. This report will help safeguard voter privacy.”

This year 32 states will allow voting by email, fax and internet portals – mostly for overseas and military voters. In most states, voters using Internet voting must waive their right to a secret ballot.

Giving up the right to a secret ballot threatens the freedom to vote as one chooses, argue the report authors. The report cites several examples of employers making political participation a condition of employment — such as an Ohio coal mining company requiring its workers to attend a Presidential candidate’s rally – and not paying them for their time.

“On Election Day, we all are equal. The Secret Ballot ensures voters that employers’ political opinions stop at the ballot box,” said Susannah Goodman, director of Common Cause’s national Voting Integrity Campaign. “The Secret Ballot was established for a reason. The Secret Ballot ensures that we can all vote our conscience without undue intimidation and coercion.”

Marc Rotenberg, EPIC President, agreed, “The secret ballot is the cornerstone of modern democracy. The states must do more to protect the privacy of voters.”

Key findings from the report include:

  • Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia collect votes online, with e-mail, electronic fax, or an online portal
  • Twenty-eight of these states and the District of Columbia ask voters to waive their right to a secret ballot.
  • Four of the states that collect votes online do not give voters any warning regarding ballot secrecy and Internet voting.

“The findings are concerning; the good news is, voters can protect the privacy and security of their vote. These solutions do not require any legislative change – voters can take advantage of already existing rules to protect their right to a secret ballot this election cycle,” said Pamela Smith, president of Verified Voting Foundation, a nonprofit working to safeguard elections in the digital age by promoting the use of reliable and verifiable voting systems and methods.

Among the authors’ recommendations to voters and election officials:

  • Get your ballot early;
  • Get your ballot faster – if you are a military/overseas voter, you can receive your blank ballot electronically;
  • Mark your printed ballot and mail it back.

The Federal Voting Assistance Program recommends that postal mail return of a voted ballot, coupled with the electronic transmission of a blank ballot is the “most responsible” method of absentee voting for military and overseas voters. 

The Department of Homeland Security warned recently that internet voting “introduces great risk into the election system by threatening voters’ expectations of confidentiality, accountability and security of their votes […].”

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has also warned about the risks of online voting. In 2011, NIST concluded that “…ballot secrecy remains a challenging issue in remote electronic voting systems”; until these and other challenges are overcome, secure Internet voting is not yet feasible.

The complete report is available at