Commentary

02/26/2013  by Alexandra Bjerg

Path toward online voting stymied by fear of hacking

While we can do just about everything on the Internet these days, like buy groceries, pay bills, and most importantly, waste hours watching cat videos, we can’t yet cast a ballot online.

But the idea of e-Voting, as it’s called, isn’t so far-fetched. Eight years ago the small Baltic country of Estonia became the first country in the world to allow voters to cast ballots over the Internet, and it has actually worked rather well.

After the successful launch of online voter registration last year, which allowed roughly 600,000 Californians to register online in the final 45 days before the 2012 election, electronic voting would seem like the logical next step. Furthermore, it’s reasonable to believe that California, home to Silicon Valley and birthplace of the Internet revolution, would lead the charge toward cyberspace voting.

Don’t rush out and buy an iPad just yet; it’s unlikely that you’ll be voting for president, governor, or mayor on one anytime soon.

In fact, voting security experts like Pamela Smith, president of Verified Voting Foundation, a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to safeguarding elections in the digital age, hope to slow any expansion to Internet voting, for now anyway.

Smith warns that online voting is a “dangerous idea” as there is currently no way to guarantee the security, integrity, and privacy of ballots cast over the Internet.

The 2010 hacking of Washington, D.C.’s pilot internet voting program demonstrates the grave security risks posed by digitized voting.  48 hours into the mock election set up to test the security of the system ahead of the November mid-term elections, University of Michigan students successfully infiltrated the election server. It took officials two days to realize that the students had changed every vote, revealed every secret ballot, and even modified the thank you page to play Michigan's fight song, which is appositely titled “The Victors.”

A bill recently introduced by freshman Assemblyman Phil Ting could result in the Secretary of State implementing an online voting pilot program right here in the Golden State. If passed, just imagine the hacking war that would ensue between longstanding rivals USC and UCLA or Stanford and UC Berkeley hoping to carry out an even better prank.

Although the technical hurdles of securing remote internet voting won’t be overcome in the near future, Smith explains that in the meantime, the Internet can be used in a variety of other ways to help voters participate effectively.

“Promoting online voter registration, which resulted in nearly 800,000 new registrations in only six weeks, is a great way to use the internet to engage new voters while the security issues behind e-voting are worked out,” said our own Caroline Bruister, CAFwd Project Director for the Future of California Elections (FoCE).

Categories: Democracy, Elections

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