Internet voting still faces hurdles in US

May 24, 2012 by Rob Lever
A US citizen deposits his authorization card into a bin after casting his vote in an electronic voting machine in Miami, Florida in November 2006. Pressure is building to make Internet voting widely available in the United States and elsewhere, even though technical experts say casting ballots online is far from secure.

Shop online. Bank online. Why not vote online?

Pressure is building to make Internet voting widely available in the United States and elsewhere, even though say casting ballots online is far from secure.

In the 2012 US elections, more than two dozen states will accept some form of electronic or faxed ballots, mostly from military or overseas voters, according to the Verified Voting Foundation.

But there is a growing expectation that online voting will expand further.

"The number one question I'm asked is when we will get to on the Internet," Matt Masterson, Ohio's deputy election administrator, told a Washington forum this month.

"When you are doing everything else on the Internet and your comfort level is high, people expect to do that... You can adopt a child online, you can buy a house online without ever seeing it."

But say any system can be hacked or manipulated, and that unlike shopping and banking, the problem cannot be fixed by giving the customer a refund.

"You have computer systems such as those of , the Pentagon and , which have all fallen victim to intrusion," said J. Alex Halderman, a computer scientist at the University of Michigan.

Halderman, who gained notoriety by hacking into a test of an online voting system in the US capital Washington in 2010 -- forcing the system to be scrapped -- said the technology is not yet secure enough.

"It's going to be decades, if ever, before we are going to be able to vote online securely," he told the forum at George Washington University's Policy and Research Institute.

Some other countries are forging ahead on Internet voting.

French citizens living abroad will for the first time this year be able to vote in a parliamentary election over the Internet, an experiment that could be extended to other elections if successful.

In Estonia, an early adopter, a record 25 percent of voters cast Internet ballots in 2011.

But Halderman, who has consulted with European governments and studied other attempts at online voting, said: "I don't believe any of them are secure."

In 2010 Halderman and his students accepted a challenge from the local government and were able to penetrate the Washington voting network, change all the votes and prompt the system to play the University of Michigan fight song.

A woman reads information on the Verified Voting Federation website in October 2010, in Washington,DC. Pressure is building to make Internet voting widely available in the United States and elsewhere, even though technical experts say casting ballots online is far from secure

Masterson said election officials are grappling with how to make voting more accessible and looking at the costs of the technology. Internet voting from that perspective makes some sense, he said.

Masterson said online voting can also help boost participation and address the issue of voters who cannot get to a polling station.

"It kills an election official to find out you can't get a ballot back," he said. "These people are being disenfranchised."

But Halderman counters that US elections provide a tempting target for hackers, nation-states and others who might want to destabilize or disrupt the US political system.

"If everyone voted online today, I think the probability of substantial fraud would be 100 percent," he said.

Susan Dzieduszycka-Suinat, of the Overseas Vote Foundation, works to make ballots more accessible, but remains uneasy with online voting.

"It's horrible to say this," she said.

"I come out of the software industry and push automation and technology for streamlining voting processes all day long, but right now, with the security issues that exist, there is no way I could advocate for Internet voting."

GWU computer scientist Michael Clarkson said it's not yet clear if online voting can be extended to , where the risks of intrusion are high.

"After 30 years of research, we don't yet know how to do that in a way that scales to national elections, but we continue to make progress toward the goal," he said.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology, an arm of the Commerce Department, said this month its research had "concluded that Internet voting systems cannot currently be audited with a comparable level of confidence in the audit results as those for polling place systems."

Additionally, malware on voters' personal computers "poses a serious threat that could compromise the secrecy or integrity of voters' ballots," NIST said.

Richard Soudriette, head of the Colorado-based Center of Diplomacy and Democracy and a consultant on election issues, said he believes the technical and security problems of online voting have largely been resolved.

"Over the past 10 years Internet voting firms have developed encryption and cryptography software tools that make voting much more secure," he said.

"I believe that within a decade most developed countries will conduct national elections via Internet."

Explore further: Austrian computer visionary Zemanek dies aged 94

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alfie_null
not rated yet May 24, 2012
Given how contentious the two parties (effectively, the only parties) are, I'd expect extraordinary resources to be invested in figuring out ways to game the system. Maybe not so much of a problem in other places, where electronic voting has been adopted.
antialias_physorg
1 / 5 (1) May 24, 2012
You may be right. If the effort ging into redrawing district lines to contain most of the opposing party's voters (lessening their impact on the overall outcome) is anything to go by then the amount of time until someone (from either party) hires a hacker can probably be measured in milliseconds.

If they don't hack it Anonymous will.
DavidW
1 / 5 (2) May 24, 2012
This can be done much sooner. The only answers they seem to look for are the ones that pay.
LuckyBrandon
1 / 5 (2) May 24, 2012
This unfortunately will never happen. Even if we make it fully secure, it won't happen (which a LOT can be done to secure a system like this to make it almost not worth trying to hack with existing technology). IF this were done, congress, senate, parlimant...all would have a major shift in their role in that they would no longer be responsible for the decisions, and technically would no longer be required with the exception of tie breaker scenarios maybe.
jamey
not rated yet May 24, 2012
As exhibit A in support of the idea, I offer entry #69 in the Maxim Hot 100 Women of 2012. And don't think placement at #69 was accidental, either!

Seriously - this is *NOT* the brightest idea ever.
antialias_physorg
1 / 5 (1) May 24, 2012
As exhibit A in support of the idea, I offer entry #69 in the Maxim Hot 100 Women of 2012.

Brilliant.

Exhibit B:
This hacked poll from the Times.
http://musicmachi...c-loses/
Vendicar_Decarian
3.7 / 5 (3) May 24, 2012
American elections have proven beyond any doubt that American's are incapable of adding.

I therefore conclude that they are incapable of the vastly more complex goal of creating an internet based voting system that is incapable of being hacked.

If the Ballot ain't fit, you must acquit.
KBK
1 / 5 (1) May 28, 2012
Never step outside of a paper ballot, that has a real and extant paper trail.

Room for shenanigans means that shenanigans WILL take place. It's like having a hole in a bucket, or an exception to a rule..or a backdoor in software/hardware.

That's what every instance in history, that has allowed room for nastiness to occur... has ever shown, in anything. That the potential for nastiness turned into the reality of it. Every time.

Computer based voting leaves room for Fraud, and history shows that it will be committed. Wholesale. Every time.

Garbage is as garbage does. Every time.

So, I say NO to any form of internet voting.

I would not touch it with a thousand foot barge pole.
LuckyBrandon
1 / 5 (2) Jul 23, 2012
@vendicar - I liked that response...bravo!

At the opposers of internet voting...not to be rude, but are you INSANE?? IF we could pull this off and make it to where the uptime was 99.99% AND the level of security was so vast that a hacker wouldnt bother to try hacking...then we could effectively have agreed upon ACTUAL FREEDOM. Not some schmuck on the hill passing what HE OR SHE THINKS is freedom (or a "justified" law)....
Internet voting would allow us all to vote and eliminate the dumbasses who lie to get voted in. Voting for a liar (and lets face it, ALL politicians are liars without exception anywhere) who will in turn serve only their own interests (this is fact). Sooo, how exactly is internet voting a bad idea outside of the obvious security measures that would need to be taken?? I personally would have rather voted on whether or not we went to war with Iraq, or Afghanistan, instead of leaving it up to the #1 retard whom ever existed (George "Who me, I didn't do it" Bush)...