Internet Voting — Not Ready For Democracy

Verified Voting Founder, Professor David Dill, and computer experts from around the country released the: Computer Technologists’ Statement on Internet Voting.

I fully endorse the statement and thank David Dill for producing and gaining support for the statement.

The concluding paragraph:

The internet has the potential to transform democracy in many ways, but permitting it to be used for public elections without assurance that the results are verifiably accurate is an extraordinary and unnecessary risk to democracy.

From the statement:

Election results must be verifiably accurate — that is, auditable with a permanent, voter-verified record that is independent of hardware or software. Several serious, potentially insurmountable, technical challenges must be met if elections conducted by transmitting votes over the internet are to be verifiable. There are also many less technical questions about internet voting, including whether voters have equal access to internet technology and whether ballot secrecy can be adequately preserved.

Internet voting should only be adopted after these technical challenges have been overcome, and after extensive and fully informed public discussion of the technical and non-technical issues has established that the people of the U.S. are comfortable embracing this radically new form of voting.

A partial list of technical challenges includes:

• The voting system as a whole must be verifiably accurate in spite of the fact that client systems that can never be guaranteed to be free of malicious logic…

• There must be a satisfactory way to prevent large-scale or selective disruption of vote transmission over the internet…

• There must be strong mechanisms to prevent undetected changes to votes…

• There must be reliable, unforgeable, unchangeable voter-verified records of votes that are at least as effective for auditing as paper ballots…

• The entire system must be reliable and verifiable even though internet-based attacks can be mounted by anyone, anywhere in the world…

From the Q & A:

Q: Why this statement at this time?

A: Serious proposals to use internet voting keep coming up. There have been several internet primaries in the last few years, including a primary conducted by Democrats Abroad in 2008. Furthermore, internet voting schemes are being promoted for the general election in 2008, including a proposal by Okaloosa County, Florida, and the State of Alabama.

In many cases, these schemes have been deployed without due consideration of the technical challenges, based on unsupported assertions by vendors that the systems are “secure”. Independent experts need to speak out.

Q: Is this an anti-internet voting statement?

A: No. Some of the people who have endorsed it are working on internet voting methods. The statement is intended to be a warning: internet voting is not as easy to do safely as some people seem to think. Before we move to it, we need an informed public debate so the people know what they’re getting into.


Q: As someone without a strong technical background, why should I have to rely on a bunch of computer scientists to tell me whether I can trust my elections?

A: Maybe you shouldn’t (however, the statement at least insists that there should be enough disclosure so that a technical person you trust can review the scheme and tell you what he or she thinks about it). If you have non-technical concerns about internet voting, this would be a good time to speak up. As the statement notes, we are NOT saying that the decision whether to use internet voting is a purely technical decision — just that it needs to be a technically INFORMED decision. The technical challenges of internet voting are currently being minimized, often by people who simply don’t understand them.

We’re calling for an in-depth, public debate on the technical and NON-TECHNICAL issues in internet voting before adopting it. It’s very possible that a technically sound internet voting scheme could be rejected for non-technical reasons, including other issues such as whether internet voting might disenfranchise legal voters who cannot easily access the internet.

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