Contrary to popular belief, the fundamental security risks and privacy problems of Internet voting are too great to allow it to be used for public elections, and those problems will not be resolved any time soon, according to David Jefferson, who has studied the issue for more than 15 years. Jefferson, a computer scientist in the Lawrence Livermore’s Center for Applied Scientific Computing, discussed his findings in a recent Computation Seminar Series presentation, entitled “Intractable Security Risks of Internet Voting.” His study of Internet voting issues is independent of his Lawrence Livermore research work. Nonetheless, he reminded the audience that “election security is a part of national security,” noting that this is a primary reason he is so passionate about this issue. “I am both a technical expert on this subject and an activist,” Jefferson emphasized in his introductory remarks. “Election security is an aspect of national security and must be treated as such.” The view held by many election officials, legislators and members of the public is that if people can shop and bank online in relative security, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be able to vote on the Internet, Jefferson said. “Advocates argue (falsely) that Internet voting will increase turnout, reduce costs and improve speed and accuracy.” They promote the idea that “you can vote anytime, anywhere, even in your pajamas.”
Other benefits touted by advocates are simpler voting for military personnel, overseas voters, students and others away from home on election day, better access for some disabled voters, and various technical advantages of getting rid of paper ballots.
However, Jefferson says the security, privacy, reliability, availability and authentication requirements for Internet voting are very different from, and far more demanding than, those required for e-commerce, and cannot be satisfied by any Internet voting system available today or in the foreseeable future. Such systems are susceptible to “attack” or manipulation by anyone with access to the system, including programmers and IT personnel, not to mention criminal syndicates and even nation states, according to Jefferson.