CT Senate’s Magical Mystery Military Voting Tour

Just in time for Memorial Day, the Connecticut Senate has passed unanimously,  an amended version of S.B. 647, An Act Concerning Voting By Members Of The Military Serving Overseas – To permit voters who are members of the armed forces and serving overseas to return ballots by electronic means <amended version>

In summary the bill requires the Secretary of the State, Military Department, and Local Officials to defy science and economics, performing at least two miracles!

The previous version directed that the Secretary and the Military department develop a method for safe electronic voting and produce a report outlining needed changes in the law by next January. This bill requires them to develop that method by October 1st this year and that it be implemented in 2014, apparently regardless of their success in developing such a method and their success in passing such legislation.

The Requirements of the Bill
[Our comments in brackets]

  • On or before October 1,  2013, the Secretary of the State, in consultation with the Military Department, shall select a method for use in any election or primary held after September 1, 2014 [After the August 2014 Primary]

  • may be used by any elector or applicant for ad ission 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, [So any travel or living change applies, duty related or not, so, a National Guard member not deployed but on vacation or a business trip could presumably vote under this act]

  • or such member’s spouse or dependent if living where such member is stationed, [It includes spouses and dependents but not those on vacation, at college, or on business trips]

  • due consideration to the interests of maintaining the security of such ballot and the privacy of information contained on such ballot, [We assume ‘due consideration’ should include assuring the Constitutional requirement of a secret vote be strictly maintained]

  •  and…ensures receipt, prior to the closing of the polls on the day of the election or primary, of such ballot by the municipality in which the member or member’s spouse or dependent is enrolled or has applied for admission as an elector, if such method is properly utilized by such  member or such member’s spouse or dependent prior to the closing of  the polls on the day of the election or primary. [So, within 4 hours of voting by 8:00pm EST, it must be guaranteed to be received by some official, inbox, or machine in the appropriate municipality. 8:00pm EST could be almost any hour of the 24 hours in a day, depending on the deployment, business, or vacation location]

  • 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.

Lets look at the three known options: Email, Fax, and Online Voting

  • Email is (1) of course, not secure with the NSA listening in, interceptable by bad external actors, and directly accessible by insiders such as email vendors, insiders at data centers all along the way from personal computers or military computers, state computers, local town computers, and every stop along the way. (2) Email cannot meet the mandated four hour delivery requirement – often emails take much longer to traverse the Internet, presumably especially from remote locations the military must protect (3) Email frequently is not delivered at all. Several times a year I become aware of emails sent to me that never arrived. (4) Email schemes we have seen all require that an individual along the way receive and print the “ballot” for counting – a clear violation of the secret vote. (5) Email would have to cover personal computers for spouses and dependents, not military computers. And the military member might be on vacation or business in an area where no military computer access is available.
  • Fax, (1) like email is subject to interception in transmission (2) and like mail is subject to an individuals in town hall or state government viewing the fax as it is received. (3) subject to viewing and potential viewing by multiple members of the military as it is passed up the chain-of-command and to the Voting Assistance Officer as articulated by Rep Alexander. (4) We cannot expect the chain-of-command to pass votes and wake Voting Assistance Officers to pass votes along at all hours and within four hours, nor to provide services to dependents – did we mention they also have a war to fight and enemies that might not avoid attacks during that critical four hour period.
  • Online Voting – By online voting we mean some interactive means of voting on a web page or sending a .pdf ballot under the control of a webpage, not via email. (1) Online voting can be more secure that email or fax voting, yet is still not secure as confirmed by NIST and Homeland Security. And no online voting system has proven secure by sufficient evaluation and testing – in fact, the only system subject to some public testing failed spectacularly and another was broken by an average citizen, while vendors refuse to open their systems to scrutiny.   (2) Online voting may be difficult to administer and use, when the system is too hard to use they blame the voters. (3) Online voting is expensive! Will the state  and local officials do better than highly funded vendors or turn to their ineffective solutions? It would have cost just Edmonton Alberta $400,000. (4) Online systems entail emailing or paper mailing IDs to the voters – email can be compromised, and avoiding especially outgoing mail is the whole motivation for this bill.  Which brings us to an additional miracle. (5) Once again, it cannot be restricted to military computers.

Another Miracle for the Secretary, Military Department, and Local Officials

The Legislature requires that the the report, voting implemented, and run at no cost! It was passed with a note from the Office of Fiscal Analysis: “NO FISCAL IMPACT”. Or as articulated in more detailed note for the committee approved bill:

State Impact: None

Municipal Impact: None


The bill, which requires the Secretary of the State to develop and report on a method for returning the ballot of a military member stationed overseas, has no fiscal impact.

The Out Years

State Impact: None

Municipal Impact: None

We doubt anything close to claiming some level of security or privacy can be done at no cost. An online system would be in the hundreds of thousands, a credible study and report on fax and email would require extensive expertise and time.

An interesting comparison is with a somewhat similar but much easier and feasible requirement in another bill passed by the same committee this year, and also analyses with a note from the Office Fiscal Analysis. The bill allows municipalities to use, at their option, electronic check-in. It requires, probably in response to our testimony, that the Secretary provide a list of acceptable electronic check-in equipment, much less a task:

State Impact:

Agency Affected Fund-Effect FY 14 $ FY 15 $
Secretary of the State GF – Cost 150,000 10,000

 Municipal Impact:

Municipalities Effect FY 14 $ FY 15 $
Various Municipalities Potential Cost Less than 20,000 Less than 20,000


The bill would allow registrars of voters to use electronic systems that are approved by the Secretary of the State (SOTS) to check in voters. The bill would also require SOTS to create and maintain a list of electronic devices that municipalities may use for electronic checking in of voters.

The SOTS is anticipated to incur a cost of $150,000 in FY 14 to review, approve, and create a list of approved electronic devices for use in the voter check in process. The SOTS is anticipated to incur on-going costs of $10,000 per year beginning in FY 15 to maintain and update the list of approved electronic devices. Given the technical nature of device approval it is expected that the costs identified for SOTS will support a contracted consultant.

To the extent that municipalities decide to utilize electronic resources to check in voters, there is a potential cost to municipalities arising from their purchase of such devices. The cost potentially incurred by municipalities is dependent upon the type of equipment utilized and number of polling stations in a municipality. Such costs are not anticipated to exceed $20,000 for municipalities that decide to utilize this type of equipment.

The Out Years

The annualized ongoing fiscal impact for SOTS identified above would continue into the future subject to inflation. Municipal costs in the out years would be dependent upon the lifecycle of the equipment utilized.

What is Secretary Merrill to Do?
(If this bill passes the House and is not vetoed again by the Governor)

We presume the Secretary is expected to obey the law, and that Secretary Merrill maintains her past opposition to electronic voting as expressed in her testimony on this bill and on S.B 283, stated by experts in her Online Voting Symposium, and confirmed by the Governor’s veto last year.

Normally, we presume Connecticut has a government of men (and women), of a Constitution, and not of miracles! We do not believe the Constitution requires that any official perform miracles. If it did then it would be easy to command the Governor to solve all our budget, tax, and funding problems in a similar manner.

While her response is up to the Secretary, we would suggest she insist that the report include:

  • Even experts at Homeland Security and the National Institute of Standards and Technology agree with the vast majority of computer scientists and security experts that the Internet is not safe and cannot be made safe for voting.
  • That while we have a dedicated state Military Department and legendary state and local Information Technology Departments, it is unlikely that they can defy science to do better than the U.S. Military, and large financial institutions which are regularly hacked.
  • That she and the Military Department cannot meet the requirements of the law that secrecy and security be protected.
  • That any requirements not include directives to the U.S. Military, which has shown a lack of enthusiasm and compliance with directives regarding military voting from the U.S. Congress.
  • At minimum the Constitution would need to be amended to eliminate or adjust the requirement of a secret vote, and this law amended to eliminate the requirement for ‘due consideration’ of security and privacy.
  • That the Office of Fiscal Analysis incorrectly stated the costs of study, implementation, and operation.
  • Any system should be subject to extensive independent, contracted security evaluation and testing along with well notified extensive public testing, and public comment, to guarantee its security and secrecy. Such testing should include random unannounced testing using typical equipment in the typical environments to be used by the military members and their dependents. Our voters and our military are worth this and deserve it!

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