Whether Kentuckians deployed or living overseas should have the option to cast ballots using the Internet has been among the more heavily debated topics of this year’s legislative session. Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes has led the charge to make an electronic transmission system available for military and overseas voters from Kentucky, a main provision in Senate Bill 1 that was later removed. Some, such as Senate President Robert Stivers and Common Cause of Kentucky, a government watchdog group, have raised concerns with cyber security and election integrity. Supporters say secure systems have been implemented by other states without issue. The bill, sponsored by Stivers, R-Manchester, is set for a conference committee. Two key parts of the legislation – electronic submission of absentee ballots and allowing a two-day extension to receive them – were removed by the Senate and later reinserted by the House, prompting debate in both chambers as votes were cast.
As specifics of SB 1 are negotiated in conference committee in the session’s closing days next week, Grimes has asked lawmakers to include at least one of the items in question, said Lynn Zellen, Grimes’ spokeswoman. “Secretary Grimes believes they’re both necessary to fully protect the military’s right to vote, but she is a practical person, and if we could grant our military at least one of those provisions, that would greatly help them be able to make sure their voices are heard in our elections,” Zellen said.
Online security has been an oft-repeated concern from those opposed to an electronic transmittal of completed absentee ballots. Those against electronic voting methods say detecting potential election fraud on the Internet could be more difficult than other Web-based schemes, like stealing a person’s banking information, where fraudulent purchases can be noticed immediately.
“The truth is … there is no fully online, Internet-based election system out there that has been certified as safe,” said Susan Dzieduszycha-Suinat, president of the nonpartisan Overseas Vote Foundation in Arlington, Va. Voter information could also be susceptible to hackers, Dzieduszycha-Suinat said. Email-based systems are the least secure method to accept absentee ballots, she said.
Vulnerability questions with Internet-based voting are nothing new. The U.S. Department of Defense scrapped a $22 million Secure Electronic Registration and Voting Experiment on recommendation from a panel of security analysts in 2004. Washington, D.C., abandoned its absentee voting pilot project in 2010 after a team of University of Michigan computer researchers tampered with a mock election. Cyber attackers targeted Miami, Fla., during a primary election in August, requesting some 2,500 absentee ballots for more than two weeks from computers in the U.S., England, Ireland, India and elsewhere, according to The Miami Herald.
Richard Beliles, chairman of Common Cause of Kentucky, said recent hacks into federal and defense agencies have not eased fears of casting absentee ballots via the Web. “None of us that are criticizing this are against the military voting,” Beliles said. “We just want it done in advance to where it’s secure when it comes back to the county clerks – that’s all.”