The search for solutions to increase voter numbers on Election Day continues as states have underwhelming turnouts in both presidential and non-presidential election years. But Eugene Spafford, computer science professor at Purdue, says online voting is not one of those solutions. The most important aspects of an election are privacy and accuracy for citizens and, from the standpoint of candidates, the vote total accountability. However, current online technology available to the average citizen dictates that you can’t have it all, says Spafford, the executive director of Purdue’s Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security. “Voting by Internet sounds attractive, but either we have to give up the anonymity of the ballot, which is not a good practice, or we have to give up the ability to confirm that the count is correct,” he said in a press release.
The question of online voting comes up because many day-to-day activities are handled online. But comparing voting via the Internet to activities such as banking online falls short because, with banking, an account is used to track of transactions. “A record kept of the account – that’s not anonymous,” Spafford said. “That removes the privacy of the voting booth from voters.”
For the areas of accuracy and accountability, the potential for election problems go back to two well-known headaches: computer viruses and bugs. A virus or hidden code designed to disrupt vote counts cast online wouldn’t be difficult to write, Spafford said, adding such software is expensive and difficult to prevent.
“Elections matter,” he said. “If one virus or error is detected, it could invalidate the vote, and that’s not something we want to do. It would cast enough doubt that the election would be thrown into disarray.”