Nevada’s election chief says the state’s much-ballyhooed new system for electronically delivering absentee ballots to troops and other citizens overseas isn’t an “online” voting system, even if it offers those abroad the option of emailing marked ballots to county clerks. But his boss, Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller, described the system differently in testimony to Congress last year, boasting that it would allow voters abroad “to request, mark and deliver a ballot to their county without the need of a printer or a scanner.” The office of Pentagon Inspector General John Rymer is taking a hard look at systems like Nevada’s to see whether they’re violating a prohibition on the use of Defense Department grant dollars to create online voting systems, a spokeswoman for Rymer told McClatchy. The prohibition was spurred by concerns that those systems are vulnerable to hackers. Republican Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina, the chairman of a House Armed Services subcommittee on military personnel, and the panel’s ranking Democrat, California Rep. Susan Davis, wrote Rymer last June requesting “a full and thorough investigation” to determine whether they’re designed to return votes electronically. So far, the inspector general’s office said, Rymer has ordered only an “assessment” of whether grant recipients are skirting the rules – a review not previously disclosed. At Wilson’s and Davis’ request, the inspector general’s office also is examining how an obscure Pentagon unit, whose task is to facilitate absentee voting overseas, spent $85 million in research funding from 2009 to 2013, Rymer’s office said.
The Pentagon’s Federal Voting Assistance Program doled out much of that money in grants to states and counties for voting system upgrades in what has become a race to capitalize on new technology that makes it easier for troops stationed overseas to cast their ballots. About 30 states, most of which received grants from the program, have developed some form of online voting.
The problem is that numerous cybersecurity experts warn that votes cast over the Internet, including through email, are vulnerable to vote tampering or even large-scale schemes to rig elections. Another drawback is that they do not create a verifiable paper trail in the event of a recount, as do many state electronic voting systems.
… John Sebes, chief technology officer for the California-based Open Source Election Technology Foundation, said that email is “the most convenient and least secure transport mechanism,” and that there are multiple ways for hackers to tamper with the process. … Sebes said that the biggest vulnerability occurs at the point where electronic documents arrive at an election data center. Even if there is no mischief, he said, election officials advocating email voting are asking for “a whole new different type of trust.”