Experts Say Internet Voting Will Have to Wait
By Daniel Seligson, Staff Writer
As a number of state legislatures look for ways that technology can improve elections, a panel of experts Tuesday (3/6) delivered a simple message: Internet voting is not yet an option.
The National Workshop on Internet Voting, a group comprised of National Science Foundation researchers, experts from the Washington-based Internet Policy Institute, academics and election officials, released a six-month study and issued a strong warning against using technology too quickly in elections.
"Remote Internet voting systems pose significant risk to the integrity of the voting process and should not be fielded for use in public elections until substantial technical and social science issues are addressed," the report states. "The security risks associated with these systems are both numerous and pervasive, and in many cases cannot be resolved using even the most sophisticated technology today."
Legislators in six states -- Massachusetts, Vermont, California, Alabama, Pennsylvania, Colorado, -- have bills calling for pilot projects to explore Internet voting or measures that allow localities to run Internet elections.
Remote, or at-home Internet voting, the panel found, would leave elections open to fraud and exclusion. With the most sophisticated technology now available election officials would not be able to verify who voted. And, those who did not own computers or enjoy Internet access would be excluded from at least the convenience of on-line ballots.
"With remote voting, you are susceptible to viruses, denials of service, fake Web sites designed to look like official voting sites, platform compatibility issues, access to computer issues and the digital divide," said David Cheney, principal investigator for the Internet Policy Institute. "What we're saying is this is not something to be rushed into and we're not ready for it."
In Arizona, last year's Democratic primary was conducted entirely over the Internet to mixed reviews from election experts. Just under 40,000 registered Democrats voted online. Security was tight, despite an effort by a group hired by party officials to try and hack into the system to test its integrity. Supporters noted higher turnouts and speedy results. Detractors said a higher turnout was inevitable, considering President Clinton ran unopposed in 1996.
Experts said more limited ballot measures, such as those conducted by companies for shareholders or political primaries, were not prone to the same security risks as general elections.
Members of the panel did not entirely discount the use of the Internet for elections. Panel members said precinct Internet voting where voters cast votes at computer terminals under the supervision of election officials and at-home voting could offer a viable alternative to traditional election methods in the near future promising "greater convenience and efficiency than traditional voting."
Remote Internet voting does have its defenders. Those who support a move to Internet voting say it will offer new access for the disabled, allow unparalleled speed and accuracy in determining election results and give voters the chance to view and approve their completed ballots before sending them off to be counted.
Mark Prieto, chief operating officer for Election.com, the company that ran Arizona's primary, responded to the report by acknowledging some public officials are not yet comfortable with remote Internet voting. He predicted nonetheless the move to on-line elections would be gradual but steady.