Though early American elections involved shouting out your vote to the county clerk, oh, how the times have changed. Thirty-one states now use electronic voting machines; the remaining 19 rely on paper ballots or punch cards. The technological march from voices to touchscreens took hundreds of years, but widespread adoption of e-voting began in earnest a decade ago, shortly after the 2000 presidential election revealed the myriad ways in which outdated punch card and lever voting systems could throw the country into a tailspin. But now new fears have arisen: Both paper ballots and electronic systems are vulnerable to fraud, as electronic votes often leave no paper record (depending on the jurisdiction). Without paper trails, fraud is easier to perpetrate and harder to detect. Many experts say the march toward e-voting, and even the specter of Internet voting, should be slowed until we figure out a way to craft a better system and defend it from attack.
… “There are ways to use technology in polling places that are really beneficial,” says J. Alex Halderman, assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. “The problem is, we need to avoid a situation where the only record of that vote that counts is one that is invisibly calculated inside the computer.” Halderman said safety measures such as printing paper records of each vote can ensure that elections run smoothly, even in the event of glitches or hacks.
The Verified Voting Foundation tracks each state’s use of election equipment. Only two states, Nevada and Utah, use DREs exclusively with voter-verified paper audit trail printers that create records of each vote cast. Others, such as Louisiana, Georgia, and South Carolina, use e-voting machines with no paper trail. Seven states, including Florida, use a mix of paper ballots in some counties and DREs in others without audit printers. Some counties in Idaho still rely on punch-card ballots.
The Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act of 2009 made it possible for U.S. service members and citizens living overseas to vote online or e-mail their ballots to election officials. But don’t expect online voting to catch on in the United States, at least not anytime soon.
“With online transactions like banking and shopping, one of the things people don’t know is that online merchants and banks lose billions of dollars a year to online fraud,” Verified Voting’s Smith says. “It’s a cost of doing business that is, so far, acceptable, because in the cost-benefit analysis you find you’re still making money, so it’s okay if you lose some money. With voting, you have to ask yourself: How many votes are we willing to lose?”
In 2010, Washington D.C. was preparing to roll out a pilot Internet voting system, but the city first allowed Halderman and his team of University of Michigan students to take a crack at hacking the system. The U of M crew took less than 48 hours to take control of the server and change each vote. The only way officials even knew they had been hacked was the calling card Halderman left: the Michigan fight song.
“To do online voting securely, we’re going to have to solve some of the most challenging problems in computer security today—we’re going to have to protect servers against advanced persistent threats,” Halderman says. “Google, the White house, all of them have had their servers broken into by sophisticated attackers linked to foreign governments. You can imagine those same sorts of attackers would want to target an Internet voting system if they had the opportunity to influence our foreign policy.” But, he adds, maybe someday cybersecurity experts will be able to safeguard an online election system. Until then, Smith says, we “owe it to ourselves as a nation to secure our system. It’s like opening Pandora’s box. We’re not there yet.”
Full Article: Electoral tech: How e-voting has evolved | TechHive.