Who are you going to believe? Scientists or Vendors?

Dan McCrea spells it out on the Huffington Post: Online Voting: All That Glitters Is Not Gold (Unless You’re a Vendor) <read>.  To their credit Huffington Post published McCrea’s article, countering a recent vendor puff piece they ran:

Voting over the internet seems like a cool idea whose time has come. But, it depends on who’s doing the talking.

A computer scientist friend calls it whack-a-mole, the way online voting pitchmen keep popping up to announce they’ve fixed security problems and voting over the internet is now secure. You look at their plans and find they’re as full of holes as ever.

You knock down one story and another pops up. Whack – it’s back. Whack. It’s back again. The latest was here on Huffington Post last week, in Sheila Shayon’s seemingly-harmless puff piece for the online voting vendor, Scytl, “Digital Democracy: Scytl, MySociety Secure Funding.”

Ms. Shayon blithely pitched Scytl’s “secure solutions for electoral modernization” and the news that Scytl had closed on a $9.2m investment, “led by Balderton Capital, one of Europe’s largest venture capital investors.” They estimate the online voting market at $1.5 billion. Rival vendor, Everyone Counts, estimates the market at $16 billion over the next five years.

Calling it safe does not make it safe.  Using the challenges facing those we would like to help vote, does not mean it would actually be a good idea:

But of course vendors say it is secure – and going to be very profitable. Scientists, on the other hand, say it’s not secure – and the very architecture of the internet makes secure online voting almost impossible today.

Another computer scientist friend describes email voting, the most common way to vote on the internet, this way: You’re in a stadium with eighty thousand random people. It’s time to vote. You write your selections on a post card in pencil, don’t use an envelope, and pass your card down your row to be collected.

It might work. You could have a great election. Your vote might count just as you marked your card. But confidence pretty much sucks – for a pile of obvious reasons, from innocent mishap to conspiratorial fraud to foreign-based cyber war.

Playing on public emotion, vendors have picked two special needs groups to “help” by designing online voting schemes for them. The first group is military and overseas voters, referred to as UOCAVA voters because they fall under special provisions of the federal Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act. The second group is voters with disabilities.

McCrea completes the case by referencing Scientists with objections and no money to make:

Who agrees online voting is not secure? Pretty much everyone who isn’t trying to make money on it:

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)…
Computer Technologists’ Statement on Internet Voting…
The Government Accountability Office (GAO)…
A comment on the May 2007 DoD report on Voting Technologies for UOCAVA Citizens, by several renowned computer scientists…


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