Introducing himself as a former Oregon state elections official, online voting industry lobbyist Donald DeFord vouched authoritatively to a Washington state legislative panel in late January as to the merits of statewide internet voting. Oregon, he testified, ultimately came to the “same solution” offered by a bill before the Washington state House that would allow everybody to cast their election ballots by email or fax – an option that top cyber security experts warn would expose elections to hackers. “First in a special congressional election and then statewide, we made our accessible online ballot delivery and return system available to any voter who was not able to use a paper ballot,” DeFord, a regional sales director for San Diego-based Everyone Counts, told the committee. There was a big problem with that testimony. Oregon doesn’t allow voters to send in marked ballots electronically, except for troops and citizens living abroad who have been prevented from mailing their absentee ballots due to an emergency or other extenuating circumstances. DeFord now says he “misspoke.”
“There was a little bit of confusion about language in there. I probably could have been more clear about it,” he said in phone and email exchanges. “… I did not intend to imply that Oregon has expanded electronic ballot return to all voters.”
DeFord’s wasn’t the only misleading testimony to the State Government Committee meeting in Olympia, Wash. Last month, McClatchy reported that a Pentagon liaison testified at the same hearing that the Defense Department supported the bill, which it didn’t. How that happened – for at least the second time – is a curious question in itself. An examination of the representations that day could serve as a caution sign for states where vendors are peddling an array of online voting software and their lobbyists are pushing for expanded use of internet voting.
Cyber experts say that they’ve yet to see a secure online voting system, and that emailed and faxed ballots are the most vulnerable of all to hackers who might seek to tamper with election results. Heeding these warnings, Congress has sought to bar use of federal grant dollars to purchase online systems until the National Institute of Standards and Technology sets security standards. The agency has given no hint that such an advance will occur soon.