The Pennsylvania Legislature is considering a bill, sponsored by Sen. Pat Stefano, that would permit military and overseas voters to transmit voted ballots over the internet. Despite good intentions, SB 1052 would jeopardize the vote and voice of our troops and compromise the integrity of Pennsylvania elections by exposing them to attacks from hackers operating anywhere and everywhere throughout the world. As a computer scientist, I know too well how easy it would be for a foreign attacker, partisan operative or hacker-for-hire to intercept and manipulate those ballots before they are received by county election officials, disenfranchising our troops and compromising our elections. Sending voted ballots over the internet is not a new idea. The federal government has been researching online ballot submission for nearly two decades, hoping to find a secure method to offer to the troops. After spending tens of millions of dollars in research, the Department of Defense, working with top cyber security experts at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, have established that we are not yet able to securely and privately transmit voted ballots over the internet. In 2014 Congress voted to cancel a long-stalled Defense project to develop an online voting system because of the unsolvable security issues.
The long list of high-profile hacks — Bank of America, Office of Personnel and Management, the CIA, Central Command, the FBI, Target and more — proves that even the most fortified systems can be compromised.
Moreover, voting presents additional concerns that online banking and e-commerce do not. Because we vote by secret ballot, there is no way to check if a ballot was manipulated or hacked. This makes sending votes over the internet especially vulnerable to undetectable hacking.
For these reasons, the Department of Defense does not recommend states offer electronic ballot return to military voters. Nor does the Department of Homeland Security, where a senior official recently stated that the department “does not recommend the adoption of online voting for elections at any level of government,” adding that convenience does not outweigh “the serious risks” introduced by electronic ballot return. The risk is real and the stakes, the votes of our military and the integrity of our elections, are high.