Goodbye Sandy, Goodbye Science, Goodbye Secret Voting

The Patriot Act was justified and passed quickly after 911. It contained many legally questionable items that law enforcement had wanted for years. Crises are used for that. Fortunately we have avoided mercenaries securing the Northeast, like BlackWater securied New Orleans after Katrina. Hopefully our schools will not be transformed like those in New Orleans.

Like other disruptive events, storm Sandy is being used to justify very questionable emergency voting changes in New Jersey. The Lieutenant Governor of New Jersey has announced virtually unlimited fax and email voting – some would say this is the camel’s nose in the elections tent – I would say it is more like the other end of camel.

Andrew Appel has written a post describing some of the problems with this: NJ Lt. Governor invites voters to submit invalid ballots <read>

We see already one problem:  The loss of the secret ballot.  At many times in the 20th century, NJ political machines put such intense pressure on voters that the secret ballot was an important protection.  In 2012 it’s in the news that some corporations are pressuring their employees to vote in certain ways.  The secret ballot is still critical to the functioning of democracy.

But there’s a much bigger problem with the Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno’s directive:  If voters and county clerks follow her instructions, their votes will be invalid.

Her directive reads,  “Any voter who has been displaced…is hereby designated an `overseas voter’ for the purposes of the Overseas Residents Absentee Voting Law, N.J.S.A. 19:59-1 et seq.”   But the New Jersey Statute (at 19:59-15.4) requires an additional step that Lt. Gov. Guadagno omitted from her directive:

“N.J.S.A. 19:59-15.4(a):  Immediately after a copy of the voted overseas ballot or federal write-in absentee ballot has been transmitted by electronic means to the appropriate county board of elections, as permitted pursuant to section 3 of P.L.1995, c.195 (C.19:59-14), the overseas voter shall place the original voted ballot in a secure envelope, together with a certificate substantially the same as provided for in section 9 of P.L.1976, c.23 (C.19:59-9), and send the documents by air mail to the appropriate county board of elections.

According to the update at the bottom of the post, that the directive may be corrected or clarified so that the paper ballot is required to be submitted, possibly disenfranchising voters who do not learn of the added requirement in time. Yet at least several problems remain:

  • Are voting officials really able to comply with the directive and handle the volume and votes properly?
  • The security of Internet voting is highly questionable, with email and fax voting among the most questionable methods.
  • The secret ballot should not be waived by individual voters, or its purpose will be lost.

As I commented on the Appel post:

The Secret Ballot was implemented to avoid selling votes and coercion of votes. It should be a right for all voters that no vote can be sold or coerced. A single voter cannot in reality waive all the other voters’ rights that every ballot be secret or the purpose is lost.

And as Barbara Simons commented:

I agree that these ballots might end up in court, especially if the election is close. Since not everyone has equal access to the Internet, and people without power won’t have any, Bush v. Gore might be used to challenge the results. In addition, it’s not clear that the Lieutenant Governor has the authority to create a new class of voters by designating displaced voters to be in effect overseas voters. Finally, it will be impossible to recount votes cast over the Internet unless the Lieutenant Gov. acts on the recommendations in this article. And even then, as Andrew has noted, the situation will be murky.

FEMA needs to create contingency plans so that when emergencies occur before or during an election, there are securely stored backup paper ballots and provisions for producing new ones as needed.

Barbara Simons, co-author “Broken Ballots: Will Your Vote Count?”

We have many posts covering the risks of Internet voting, but now we can also refer to an excellent peer reviewed article by Barbara Simons and Doug Jones: Internet Voting in the U.S. <read>

The assertion that Internet voting is the wave of the future has become commonplace. We frequently are asked, “If I can bank online, why can’t I vote online?” The question assumes that online banking is safe and secure. However, banks routinely and quietly replenish funds lost to online fraud in order to maintain public confidence.

We are told Internet voting would help citizens living abroad or in the military who currently have difficulty voting. Recent federal legislation to improve the voting process for overseas citizens is a response to that problem. The legislation, which has eliminated most delays, requires states to provide downloadable blank ballots but does not require the insecure return of voted ballots.

Yet another claim is that email voting is safer than Web-based voting, but no email program in widespread use today provides direct support for encrypted email. As a result, attachments are generally sent in the clear, and email ballots are easy to intercept and inspect, violating voters’ right to a secret ballot. Intercepted ballots may be modified or discarded without forwarding. Moreover, the ease with which a From header can be forged means it is relatively simple to produce large numbers of forged ballots. These special risks faced by email ballots are in addition to the general risks posed by all Internet-based voting schemes.

Many advocates also maintain that Internet voting will increase voter participation, save money, and is safe. We find the safety argument surprising in light of frequent government warnings of cybersecurity threats and news of powerful government-developed viruses. We see little benefit in measures that might improve voter turnout while casting doubt on the integrity of the results.

Almost all the arguments on behalf of Internet voting ignore a critical risk Internet-based voting shares with all computerized voting—wholesale theft

The cost of Internet voting, especially up-front charges, can be steep. For example, 2009 cost estimates from Internet voting vendor Everyone Counts were so large that a legislative proposal in Washington state to allow Internet voting for military and civilian voters was killed in committee. The estimated costs, obtained by John Gideon of VotersUnite, included proposed up-front costs ranging from $2.5 million to $4.44 million. After that, each county would have been hit with an annual license fee of $20,000-$120,000, plus $2-$7 per overseas voter…

Internet voting does not necessarily increase turnout. Everyone Counts ran an Internet-based election in Swindon, U.K., in 2007 and a local election in Honolulu, HI, in 2009 where votes were cast only by Internet or telephone. The Electoral Commission, established by the U.K. Parliament, determined that Internet voting in Swindon had a negligible effect on turnout; meanwhile, in Honolulu there was an 83% drop in turnout compared to a similar election in 2007. We know of no rigorous study of the impact of Internet voting on turnout; conducting such a study would be difficult, since turnout can vary enormously from election to election. But even if Internet voting could increase turnout, the increase would be irrelevant if the election results were at risk of corruption by insecure Internet use.

Still not convinced? We suggest reading the entire article, we have highlighted just a few points.


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