Kentucky and Connecticut (for now) choose to evaluate online voting

This week Kentucky and Connecticut chose to evaluate online, email, and fax voting for the military.

On Thursday, Kentucky the Secretary of the State is a strong proponent of Military voting. The Legislature has been pushing back and finally chose to support online delivery of ballots (required by the Federal MOVE Act for Federal elections) and to study electronic returns <read>

Kentucky military personnel serving overseas will be able to get ballots electronically under legislation approved late Tuesday in the Kentucky General Assembly. How they send them back is still to be determined. Working until the last minute of the 2013 session, legislators went back to the original Senate version of the military voting bill that allowed for electronic sending of ballots to overseas military, but snail mail return of the ballot. The legislation also establishes a task force to study electronic returns—the preferred method of Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. The task force will address safety concerns with that option.

Like many individuals and articles, the Kentucky article assumes the alternative to electronic return is “snail mail”, ignoring the option of free express return for Federal elections and the options of states paying for free express mail in other elections – hard to imagine a price approaching the $1000 a ballot typical of online military voting. Hard to imagine anything more risky than email and fax voting.

In 2011 the Connecticut Legislature went through a similar trajectory with online(*) voting opposed by Secretary of the State Merrill. Near the end of the session the bill was changed from a mandate to a requirement that the Secretary provide a report on online voting. She responded with a Symposium on Online Voting, with national experts. By our count about 50-60 voters attended, including only three legislators <video> At least one who attended was not impressed, another who did not attend was also not impressed <read> Given the developments in 2012 and 2013 very few, if any, Legislators were impressed.

Undeterred in 2012, fax and email voting, with no public hearings was stuffed into an emergency bill for campaign finance. That bill ended in a veto by Governor Malloy, based partially on the risks of such voting and the unconstitutionality  of violating the right of a secret vote. <read>

On Wednesday the Connecticut GAE Committee passed a bill forward asking for a report from the Secretary of the State, not yet available online with the rest of the information on the bill:

AN ACT CONCERNING VOTING BY MEMBERS OF THE MILITARY SERVING OVERSEAS.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Assembly convened:

Section 1. (NEW) (Effective from passage) The Secretary of the State, in consultation with the Military Department, shall develop a method for returning any ballot issued pursuant to section 9-153f of the general statutes that (1) may be used by any elector or applicant for admission as an elector who is a member of the armed forces and expects to be living or traveling outside the several states of the United States and the District of Columbia before and on election day, or such member’s spouse or dependent if living where such member is stationed, (2) gives due consideration to the interests of maintaining the security of such ballot and the privacy of information contained on such ballot, and (3) guarantees the immediate receipt of such ballot if such method is properly utilized by such member or member’s spouse or dependent prior to the closing of polls on the day of the election or primary. Not later than January 1, 2014, the Secretary of the State shall submit a report, in accordance with section 11-4a of the general statutes, to the joint standing committees of the General Assembly having cognizance of matters relating to elections and veterans’ and military affairs describing such method and any legislative changes necessary for its implementation.

The bill does not seem to expect the Secretary to object, but to design a method that meets the requirements of the bill. Even so, it is a tall order. A quick analysis suggests:

  • “Guaranteeing Immediate Receipt” would seem to preclude email voting since email is neither immediate nor guaranteed.
  • Also “Guaranteeing Immediate Receipt” would likely preclude a state centralized fax or web based voting system unless the law were changed to classify that central receipt as sufficient to equal official receipt by the Town Clerk, which is now required for absentee ballots.
  • Including “member’s spouse or dependent” would seem to preclude email or web based return by Military computers – we doubt the Military authorizes use for such dependents.
  • Gives “gives due consideration to the interests of maintaining the security of such ballot and the privacy of information contained on such ballot” would seem to require consideration and adherence to the Connecticut Constitution’s requirement that “The right of secret voting shall be preserved”. Short of requiring a change to the Connecticut Constitution,  email and fax voting would be precluded as demonstrated by the text of last year’s bill requiring an unconstitutional waiver of secret voting for email and fax voting.
  • Perhaps at a huge cost, commercial online web voting systems could be judged, or better still proven to not violate the secret ballot.
  • Another issue, perhaps especially with online web voting, is the issue of a voter-verified-paper-record required by all voting machines in state law. In any of these online methods neither the state nor local officials have a voter-verified-paper-record. Of course that law could be changed if necessary or overridden in specific cases.

We are not done in Connecticut, even for this year. Responding to objections to only a study by some GAE Committee members, a co-chair said that two other bills were still in play. A competing online voting bill, and the UMOVEA bill. The last Committee meeting that can approve bills is Friday April 5th. Perhaps the competing bill will be dropped or also changed to a study. Perhaps the UMOVEA bill was mentioned because it contains provisions to help military vote, but likely not provisions for online voting. Beyond that all bills are subject to dramatic change and consolidation prior to votes by the Senate and House. Like last year, a section authorizing online voting could be stuffed into any other bill by the Committee, even a bill otherwise especially attractive the Governor.

* As a long time computer scientist, programming computers since 1966, the term “online” to me is an application with a person using a computer tied to a central database. To me, “Online voting” in 2013 would be a voter entering votes on a web page to be entered into a database. But the common usage for “online voting” seems to include creating a .pdf and submitting it through a web page, emailing votes, and even using fax for submitting votes. I would call that all “Internet voting”, since the phone system used for faxing and calling these days is difficult to distinguish from the internet (with a small ‘i’).  But for clarity I have started using “online web voting” for any method of voting involving interactive access to a system designed specifically to collect votes or voted ballots.

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