Bradley Tusk has a plan to fix American democracy. A former high-level staffer for Chuck Schumer and Michael Bloomberg, among others, Tusk has recently been using his political wits to help tech companies sidestep red tape and clear regulatory hurdles. As he recounts in his new book, “The Fixer: My Adventures Saving Startups from Death by Politics,” Tusk has—for better or for worse—convinced authorities across the country to let Uber operate in their cities, figured out how to get the San Jose City Council to allow on-demand home delivery for marijuana, and toppled regulations banning the sale of online homeowners and renters’ insurance. When Uber, the first tech client of his fledgling consulting firm, didn’t have enough cash to pay him, Tusk took half his compensation in equity. As a consequence, he said, “I just got more money than I ever expected to have.” … On its face, voting by phone makes sense. Nearly ninety-five per cent of American adults own mobile phones, and rely on them for all sorts of secure transactions. Using them to cast a ballot would seem to be a natural extension, and one that removes many of the impediments that discourage people from voting, such as inconveniently located polling places, limited hours, and long lines. A survey of 3,649 voting-age Americans in 2016 found that about forty per cent would choose the option of Internet voting if it were offered. (Voting by phone app is a variant of Internet voting, since ballots are transmitted over the Internet.) But implementing a working system is not as simple as it may appear.
In 2010, when local election officials in Washington, D.C., were considering an Internet-voting system, they invited a University of Michigan computer-science professor, J. Alex Halderman, and his students to test its security. The group found its first vulnerability “after a few hours of examination” and eventually took control of the system; officials only noticed the breach thirty-six hours into the hack. “Securing Internet voting in practice will require significant fundamental advances in computer security,” Halderman’s team concluded in an academic paper detailing their exploits. “We urge Internet voting proponents to reconsider deployment until and unless major breakthroughs are achieved.”
… The retired Stanford computer-science professor David Dill has been writing about Internet voting since the turn of the century. He is the founder of the election-security organization Verified Voting, which is adamantly opposed to Internet, mobile-phone, and blockchain voting, advocating instead for systems that rely on easily auditable paper ballots. (Voatz is adding a paper-ballot option, but Dill is unconvinced that it is actually verifiable.) “I think it’s a horrible idea,” he said of the voting app. “My position is not that Internet voting is impossible in the sense that perpetual motion is impossible but that there’s a broad consensus among the best computer scientists that it’s not doable with current technology. If somebody comes out and says, ‘Yeah, I’ve got a secure Internet-voting system,’ they’ve got a high burden of proof.”
Both Verified Voting and, more recently, the National Election Defense Coalition have issued reports challenging the security of mobile voting. Researchers poking around the margins of earlier iterations of the Voatz system (which is proprietary and not open to public scrutiny) also found a number of problems with it. “The most basic issue is what happens to the votes before they go on the blockchain,” Dill said. “If the voter is entering a ballot on their smart phone in an app that’s written by Voatz, why should we trust this? Some random company gives us an app, we enter our votes into it, and that app claims to be delivering an encrypted copy of our ballot to be counted. We’re trusting not only the people who wrote the app but the people who implemented the operating system on the smartphone—first, to be honest, and, second, not to have any security holes that would allow a third party to have some malicious app that corrupts the votes.”