In a state that that takes pride in being on the technological cutting edge, most California voters will mark paper ballots with ink by Nov. 4, whether they vote at their polling place or by mail. The state’s reliance on paper would have seemed unlikely 15 years ago. California’s then-Secretary of State Bill Jones floated a radical idea in 1999: let people vote online. He convened task force to look into the possibility. “Here we are in the dot com boom,” said David Jefferson, a computer scientist who chaired the task force’s Technology Committee. “It’s an exciting thing. Of course we would all like to vote online. Let’s just figure out how to deliver it to the people of California.” Jefferson now works on one of the world’s fastest computers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. He recalls when the online voting project started to fall apart. “In the course of that study, which took place over several months, doubts began to creep in,” he said. “And then we began to find more and more flaws.”
Jefferson says online voting just isn’t safe, and that he’s more convinced of that today than he was 15 years ago. If hackers can steal data from Home Depot, there’s no reason they couldn’t pilfer it from election officials. And voting online is far more complicated than buying a pair of shoes, requiring security and privacy that aren’t necessary in an e-commerce transaction.
That’s where an approximately 2,000-year-old technology comes in: paper.
“Paper based balloting may feel old fashioned, but in many ways it’s the most modern and reliable system that we have,” said Doug Chapin, director of Future of California Elections.
David Jefferson echoes the sentiment, calling paper “the bedrock for security in any election.”