The US Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) is the Department of Defense Agency charged with assisting military and overseas voters with all aspects of voting, including registering to vote, obtaining ballots, and returning ballots. FVAP’s interpretations of Federal law (*) says that they must perform a demonstration of electronic return of marked ballots by overseas military voters (**) in a Federal election at the first Federal election that occurs one year after the adoption of guidelines by the US Election Assistance Commission. Since the EAC hasn’t adopted such guidelines yet (and isn’t expected to for at least another year or two), the clock hasn’t started ticking, so a 2012 demonstration is impossible and a 2014 demonstration looks highly unlikely. Hence, this isn’t a matter of imminent urgency; however, such systems are complex and FVAP is trying to get the ball rolling on what such a system would look like.
As has been discussed previously on this blog, nearly all computer security experts are very concerned about the prospect of marked ballot return over the internet (which we will henceforth refer to as “internet voting”). Issues include vulnerability of client computers, issues with auditability, concerns about usability and coercion, etc. On the flip side, many states and localities are marching full steam ahead on their own internet voting systems, generally ignoring the concerns of computer scientists, and focusing on the perceived greater convenience and hoped-for increased turnout. Many of these systems include email return of marked ballots, which computer scientists generally consider to be even riskier than web-based voting.
FVAP has been caught between the legal mandates and the technical experts. In an effort to break this logjam, they’ve organized a series of open fora – first in August 2010 just before USENIX Security in Washington DC, then in March 2011 just before the Electronic Voting Network workshop in Chicago IL, and last weekend just before USENIX Security in San Francisco CA. All three brought together representatives from FVAP, voting system vendors, election officials, computer scientists, and voting activists to discuss the issues. Several of the Freedom To Tinker bloggers have been present at all three meetings, and have been frustrated that the first two ended at an impasse – computer scientists saying “it doesn’t work” and FVAP (and others) saying “we need a solution anyway”.
Fortunately, the third meeting concluded in a far more constructive way. While all agree there are significant impediments, a consensus was reached that the best solution is a multi-stage competition, in much the same fashion as the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) did for the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) and is now performing for the Secure Hash Algorithm 3 (SHA-3).
The competition is structured as a series of phases that are completely open, which all expect to be at least somewhat controversial as some organizations (such as vendors) will want to protect their intellectual property. All submissions will be shared with the public, and competitive teams will be encouraged to critique each others’ submissions. In earlier phases this will be focused on the paper requirements and designs; in later phases this may include finding vulnerabilities in architectures and implementations. Submitters may claim patent and/or copyright on their submissions, but these must grant the public (including competitors) rights to use the submissions for analysis, including compiling, testing, and modifying software, for testing purposes. (However, submitters may preclude such use for production or resale purposes.) Thus, trade secrets will be precluded in the competitive process.
Full Article: A review of the FVAP UOCAVA workshop | Freedom to Tinker.