On Thursday, Secretary of State Scott Gessler repealed the controversial email/internet voting rules that had been promulgated for the two recall elections for use by absentee voters. The rules were the subject of much controversy and were challenged in the Libertarian Party’s lawsuit concerning a variety of recall election procedures. While the Denver District Court found some of the recall rules in violation of statutes, Judge McGahey seemed willing to allow the use of email ballots, “for this election.” He ordered that absentee ballots must be made available to everyone without requiring an “excuse.” That ruling was anticipated, as Colorado has been a “no-excuse” state for many years. The use of email rather than mail or hand delivery for absentee ballots would proliferate, and the Secretary quickly decided that this was unworkable and repealed the rule. We applaud his quick decision to provide more security to the recall election processes. The Libertarians (and Citizen Center) had fought the introduction of email ballots for any use other than military overseas with no safer option (that is current law), and true medical emergencies. The original SOS rules issued August 16 allowed email transmission and return of all absentee ballots. After considerable public input, revised rules were issued to decrease the return of ballots by email, but still allow the email delivery of ballots to voters to be returned by U.S. Mail.
The Libertarians argued that email delivery of ballots to voters creates a hosts of security and secrecy issues and would put the election at great risk—
1. Email ballots were to be marked with unique inventory control numbers that would of course result in a loss of secrecy as to the voter’s identity. (A voter printing a ballot at home would have no means to create detachable numbered stubs used to secure voting secrecy of paper ballots.) Such a loss of secrecy would likely subject the election to being invalidated afterward. (A recent recall election in Center Colorado was overturned in June because of identifying numbers on ballots.) Bottom line: Internet/email voting is not secure and years away from providing a legal and reasonable means of voting.
2. Email ballots (meant to be printed at home and returned by snail mail) could be easily fraudulently requested for hundreds of legitimate voters and voted without their knowledge. Election officials suggested that signature verification would prevent fraud. However, there are thousands of freshly signed recall and nominating petitions which are public records from which voter signatures can be scanned and then fraudulently imprinted on return ballot envelopes, after being sent to fake email addresses. This could all easily happen offshore where little enforcement would be possible.
3. Using the public record list of email ballot requestors, email ballots could be easily edited and forged for legitimate voters requesting them, then returned by the forger before the legitimate voter has the chance to vote the ballot. The legitimate voters ballot would then be cancelled out, as “first to arrive” is the ballot counted.
4. Returning voted ballots by email is being allowed now only in limited cases. Email ballots are subject to risks of loss, purposeful deletion, “editing,” rerouting, vote buying/selling, and a host of other problems, making the on-line return of ballots appropriate only in the most limited emergency situations, when a private, secure ballot is not possible. We hope that both county election officials will have strict controls on the use of such email ballots.