A program allowing soldiers in hostile fire zones to vote via email soon may come to Bell County, if a bill can make its way through the Texas Legislature. A pilot version of the program was held last year in Bexar County, which includes Fort Sam Houston and other military bases. The secretary of state reported 365 ballots were sent to soldiers overseas for the November election. Of those ballots, eight soldiers from Bexar County cast ballots in Texas’ general election in 2014. Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacquelyn Callanen said the eight emailed back represent “a huge success.” Now, a bill that expands the program is winding its way through the Texas Senate. The bill would allow the secretary of state’s office, which oversees elections, to extend the program to other counties, including Bell County for Fort Hood and El Paso County, home to Fort Bliss. … But voting via email and through the Internet can be a big red flag for cybersecurity experts.
For those interested in expanding voting access by allowing voters to cast their ballots over the Internet, one government expert/activist has bad news – the security and privacy risks associated with Internet voting won’t be resolved anytime soon. David Jefferson, computer scientist in the Lawrence Livermore’s Center for Applied Scientific Computing, has studied electronic voting and security for more than 15 years. He believes “security, privacy, reliability, availability and authentication requirements for Internet voting are very different from, and far more demanding than, those required for e-commerce.” In short, voting is more susceptible to attacks, manipulation and vulnerabilities. Some champions of Internet balloting believe the safeguards that protect online shoppers from hackers can also protect the sensitive information and meet the legal regulations associated with voting online. Advocates further believe that Internet voting will increase turnout, cut costs and improve accuracy. Jefferson refuted these claims by asserting that there currently is no strong authentication or verification solution for online shopping. Also, while proxy shopping is a common occurrence and is not against the law, proxy voting is not allowed.
Two bills in the Legislature aim to simplify the process of voting: One through providing prepaid postage on ballots, and the other by allowing voters to return ballots by email and fax. … The state would reimburse counties for the cost of postage. Critics say they support the intent of the bill, but are concerned about where to find the money. The bill would require $2.7 million in the next two-year budget, according to the Office of the Secretary of State. Counties would have to pay for the postage initially until they get reimbursed by the state. … Another proposal to allow ballots and signed declarations to be faxed or emailed also is prompting concern. House Bill 1143 would allow voters to do so by election night, without having to turn in a hard copy of their ballots to the county auditor. Armed forces members and overseas voters vote this way.
Basic cyberattacks could tamper with electronically submitted ballots, leaving no trace behind, according to research from computer science firm Galois. On the heels of election watchdog groups criticizing Alaska’s use of ballots submitted online, Galois demonstrated that electronic ballots could be modified through simply hacking into home routers, which often have minimal security measures. “An off-the-shelf home Internet router can be easily modified to silently alter election ballots,” said the researchers, Daniel Zimmerman and Joseph Kiniry. A few states now allow voters to receive and return a ballot electronically. Election officials argue it is a way to increase voter participation, while technologists insist heightened turnout isn’t worth the high risk of fraud.
It only took a couple days and tweaks to about 50 lines of code for a pair of security researchers from Portland-based Galois to demonstrate how hackers could change an election if email voting were to move beyond the pilot phase. Researchers Joseph Kiniry and Dan Zimmerman were able to show how files could be intercepted between the voter and election office through a relatively easy hack of standard router software. The duo looked at routers that are commonly used by household Internet Service Providers. “We did experiments on how it could be deployed if we were a bad guy,” Kiniry said. “Unfortunately, the state of security on these devices on the Internet is so poor.” Plus, he noted detecting that something was wrong was difficult and would take security experts to figure out the router was not working properly.
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 area on the Jersey shore where I grew up was hit very hard by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. It was many weeks before some of the people could even go home. Life was a mess. And then, a little over a week later, was the 2012 election day. The state made it clear that they would make whatever accommodations it could to help people vote if they were displaced by the storm. So far, so good, but my ears perked up when I heard about “email voting.” Yes, the state announced that voters could email in a vote. This was part of an effort to make all non-traditional forms of voting, including mail-in and fax, easier. In fact, voters were instructed to ignore the part of the relevant web page where it says “The County Clerk cannot accept faxed or emailed copies of a Application for Vote by Mail Ballot, unless you are a Military or Overseas Voter, since an original signature is required.” But certainly such circumstances were sui generis, and no sane state authority would contemplate Internet voting in the normal course of things, right? Wrong.
Virginia’s General Assembly – especially the Republican-controlled House of Delegates – has been slow to embrace the idea of electronic voting. But it appears a small window may be opening up for one class of citizens to vote by email: military service members who are deployed overseas. Under current law, they must follow the same procedure as anyone else who is absent on Election Day: Obtain an absentee ballot, fill it out and send it in by snail mail. That can be difficult, if not impossible, for service members in active combat zones.
Editorials: Colorado Secretray of State Gessler repeals controversial email/internet voting rules | Marilyn Marks/Colorado Statesman
On Thursday, Secretary of State Scott Gessler repealed the controversial email/internet voting rules that had been promulgated for the two recall elections for use by absentee voters. The rules were the subject of much controversy and were challenged in the Libertarian Party’s lawsuit concerning a variety of recall election procedures. While the Denver District Court found some of the recall rules in violation of statutes, Judge McGahey seemed willing to allow the use of email ballots, “for this election.” He ordered that absentee ballots must be made available to everyone without requiring an “excuse.” That ruling was anticipated, as Colorado has been a “no-excuse” state for many years. The use of email rather than mail or hand delivery for absentee ballots would proliferate, and the Secretary quickly decided that this was unworkable and repealed the rule. We applaud his quick decision to provide more security to the recall election processes. The Libertarians (and Citizen Center) had fought the introduction of email ballots for any use other than military overseas with no safer option (that is current law), and true medical emergencies. The original SOS rules issued August 16 allowed email transmission and return of all absentee ballots. After considerable public input, revised rules were issued to decrease the return of ballots by email, but still allow the email delivery of ballots to voters to be returned by U.S. Mail.
When Secretary of State Alison Grimes proposed ways to allow military personnel stationed outside of Kentucky to cast absentee ballots more easily and quickly, nearly everyone said it was a good idea. But concerns about the integrity of emailed absentee ballots and allowing such ballots to be counted, even if they arrived a couple of days late, have led to different bills in the Republican-controlled Senate and Democratic-controlled House. Richard Beliles of Common Cause of Kentucky believes it would be relatively easy to hack into those emails and change votes and many county clerks – just how many is in dispute – raised similar concerns. So Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, sponsored the bill but altered Grimes’ proposal by removing the email and extra time provisions. The bill passed easily in that chamber.