Secretary of the State’s Online Voting Symposium

On October 27th, the Secretary of the State, Denise Merrill held an ‘Online Voting Symposium’ at Central Connecticut State University (CCSU) in New Britain. We were there with our amateur video. The Connecticut Television Network (CT-N) was also there. When CT-N videos become available we will also post them here.


This is was an exceptional panel of experts on voting technology and the challenges of overseas voting. Credit is due to the panelists, the Secretary, and those who contributed behind the scenes in making this event possible. John Dankowski, of Connecticut Public Broadcasting did an exemplary job of moderating a very civil, thorough debate. If only typical panels and Legislative hearings could be more like this format, interactive, civil, and informative.

On a rainy/snowy night with competing demands at the State Capitol, we were pleased that several Legislators attended. In total about eighty people attended with a good mixture of registrars of voters, town clerks, and advocates. We expect many more will watch our videos or the videos and replays on CT-N.

Secretary Tennant of West Virginia, a proponent of online voting, was outnumbered four to one by the other panelists. Dankowski provided her a fair opportunity to respond and challenge the other panelists.

The Panelists

Susan Dzieduszycka-Suinat
President & Co-Founder of Overseas Vote Foundation
The Overseas Vote Foundation is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization established in 2005 that helps overseas and military voters participate in federal elections by providing public access to interactive web services. 4.75 million individuals visited OVF’s 17 voter services sites in 2008.

Natalie Tennant
West Virginia Secretary of State

In 2010, West Virginia launched a piloted an online voting initiative for military members and overseas citizens for the primary election. Tennant has testified before Congress on the success of the state’s pilot program and her office has recently issued a report detailing the ways in which voters benefitted.

Assistant Professor, University of Michigan
Halderman, a computer science professor, led a team from the University of Michigan to successfully penetrate and manipulate the internet voting system Washington D.C. planned to use for military and overseas voters for the general election in 2010
Ron Rivest
Professor, M.I.T.

Rivest is a cryptographer and a member of the Election Assistance Commission’s Technical Guidelines Development Committee.  In 2006 he published his invention of the ThreeBallot voting system, which incorporates the ability for the voter to discern that their vote was counted while still protecting their voter privacy.
Alex Shvartsman
Director of UConn Center for Voting Technology Research

The mission of the VoTeR center is to advise state agencies in the use of voting technologies and to investigate voting solutions and voting equipment to develop and recommend safe use procedures for their usage in elections.

Videos (may take a bit to load into post) (click video to go to page allowing larger views)



My Two Cents
The panel covered most issues surrounding online voting during close to one-hundred minutes. The time flew by, well focused, and engaging. There is always more that could be said, more details, and additional important points which could have been discussed. Here are some additional points that I would like to have seen raised or had more emphasis.
  • Voting challenges and solutions should not be limited to military voters. As a veteran I appreciate the service and the challenges to voting for soldiers. All overseas voters should have effective access to voting. Many face similar challenges, many deserve our thanks, while all should be able to have their votes counted. Consider some examples: Volunteers and NGO staff in Darfur and Hati; Business representatives in China, South America, and Africa; Oil rig workers; Merchant Marine; State Department employees; Military contractors; and Peace Corps volunteers.
  • Insider attacks are easier and more effective than external threats. Like most panels the focus was on outsider attack, yet the risk of a single insider is likely greater. An insider likely needs much less sophisticated means, has more opportunity, and ready means to attack, in less detectable ways.
    • The government believes, a singly Army Private could have accessed and stolen government documents from many agencies. Whether they have the correct suspect or not, they seem quite convinced that it is possible. Many election officials, government technologists, contractors, and vendor employees would have similar opportunities to compromise online voting systems.
    • Ironically, driving home I caught snippets of the rebroadcast of the day’s John Dankowski show, Where We Live. The subject was Art Theft. One of the main contentions was that almost all museum art theft is accomplished by unsophisticated insiders – typically low paid security guards with access, using unsophisticated means.
  • The possibility of error. Online voting systems could have errors which lose votes irretrievably or mis-classify them. Without the paper records votes can be lost or changed, with or without detection, yet without recourse.
  • The confusion of the possibility of  a ‘secure’ government network, with reality and what is on the table. Panelists discussed the possiblity of a non-public Intenet, a highly secure, government network for online voting, using highly secure computers and servers as well. Even though a perfect system is impossible, such a network would be much safer than systems using individual’s computers, the public Internet, or a regular government Internet – many of us might agree such a system was ‘good enough’.  Yet we should not confuse that possibility with what was actually the subject of the symposium, what is being actually proposed around the country, or what is reasonable:
    • Neither the Federal Government, Connecticut, or any state is actually seriously considering such a system. For starters it would be hugely expensive, require agreement to let the military handle all such voting for every jurisdiction, along with huge investments and operating expense on the part of the Federal Government and each election jurisdiction.
    • It would likely have to be a huge network with a huge number of locations and secure computers, separate from other Military networks, especially if it were used to serve all overseas voters.
    • Remember that anecdotal extreme cases of voting challenges include front line troops in Afghanistan, relief workers in the most challenging conditions, Peace Corps volunteers in remote villages etc. It is hard to imagine a secure, expensive, network reaching in all such environments. We cannot lose sight of realistic means to solve the real challenge we started out to address.
Other Coverage
The Hartford Courant <read>
New Britain Herald <read>
Connecticut Network (CT-N) <video>
Waterbury Republican and Senator Kane <read>

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