There is widespread pressure around the country today for the introduction of some form of Internet voting in public elections that would allow people to vote online, all electronically, from their own personal computers or mobile devices. Proponents argue that Internet voting would offer greater speed and convenience, particularly for overseas and military voters and, in fact, any voters allowed to vote that way.
However, computer and network security experts are virtually unanimous in pointing out that online voting is an exceedingly dangerous threat to the integrity of U.S. elections. There is no way with current technology to guarantee that the security, privacy, and transparency requirements for elections can all be met with any security technology in the foreseeable future. Anyone from a disaffected misfit individual to a national intelligence agency can remotely attack an online election, modifying or filtering ballots in ways that are undetectable and uncorrectable of just disrupting the election and creating havoc. There are a host of such attacks that can be used singly or in combination. In the cyber security world today almost all of the advantages are with attackers, and any of these attacks can result in the wrong persons being elected, or initiatives wrongly passed or rejected.
Nonetheless, the proponents point to the fact that millions of people regularly bank and shop online every day without apparent problems,. They note that an online voting transaction resembles an ecommerce transaction, at least superficially. You connect your browser to the appropriate site, authenticate yourself, make your choices with the mouse, click on a final confirmation button, and you are done! All of the potential attacks alluded above apply equally to shopping and banking services, so what is the difference? People ask, quite naturally, “If it is safe to do my banking and shopping online, why can’t I vote online?”
This is a very fair question, and it deserves a careful, thorough answer because the reasons are not obvious. Unfortunately it requires substantial development to explain fully. But in brief, our answer is in two-parts:
1. It is not actually “safe” to conduct ecommerce transactions online. It is in fact very risky, more so every day, and essentially all those risks apply equally to online voting transactions.
2. The technical security, privacy, and transparency requirements for voting are structurally different from, and much more stringent than, those for ecommerce transactions. Even if ecommerce transactions were safe, the security technology underpinning them would not suffice for voting. In particular, the security and privacy requirements for voting are unique and in tension in a way that has no analog in the ecommerce world.
The two parties sparred late Tuesday night over the proliferation of voter identification laws across the country, as several House Democrats said these laws would make it harder to minorities to vote, and a lone Republican said the evidence of voter fraud demands a solution such as ensuring all voters are legal U.S. citizens via a picture ID.
“They have only one true purpose, which is to disenfranchise eligible voters,” Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) said on the floor of various state laws. Several Democrats joined her to add that Republican claims of voter fraud are baseless. “There is no threat of voter fraud,” Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) said. “Are there rampant cases of impersonation, voting as someone else? No. Voter fraud is not rampant, there are not numerous cases of impersonation.” Read More
Barack Obama may have won this crucial state three years ago on the Sunday before Election Day when “souls to the polls” drives brought a surge of blacks and Latinos to cast ballots after church. Florida had opened the polls two weeks early, and even so, long lines across the state prompted the governor to issue an emergency order extending the hours for early voting. Propelled by waves of new voters including college students, Obama eked out a win with 51 percent.
It will be different next year, thanks to changes in the voting laws adopted by the Republican-controlled Legislature. Early voting was reduced from two weeks to one week. Voting on the Sunday before Election Day was eliminated. College students face new hurdles if they want to vote away from home. And those who register new voters face the threat of fines for procedural errors, prompting the nonpartisan League of Women Voters to suspend voter-registration drives and accuse the Legislature of “reverting to Jim Crow-like tactics.” Read More
On May 11, 2011, the South Carolina General Assembly passed Act R54. The new law would require individuals to present photo identification to vote. Governor Nikki Haley signed the bill a week later.The Department of Justice has yet to pre-clear the new law, stating that it needs proof from South Carolina that Act R54 would not disenfranchise voters. Valid forms of identification include a South Carolina driver’s license, a passport, military identification, a voter registration card with a photograph, or another form of photographic identification from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
Chris Whitmire, Director of Public Relations and Training at the South Carolina State Election Commission (SCSEC), spoke to me about the preparations taking place if the law is pre-cleared. These preparations include training county election officials, notifying registered voters without proper identification through direct mail, and a social media campaign about the new law. The General Assembly allocated $535,000 to the SCSEC for the voter education campaign and the creation of new voter registration cards that contain a photograph of the voter. Read More
I’ve been writing a lot over the past five months about House Bill 1355, dubbed by many as Florida’s ignominious voter suppression law. HB1355 is being challenge in federal court, and the US Justice Department has yet to grant preclearance of portions of the law which cover five Florida counties covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Defending the law, the Florida Secretary of State is suing in Federal Court to not only uphold all sections of the law, but to strike down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
Most of the attention that I and others have given to HB1355 has focused on three areas that the GOP-controlled legislature cracked down on in order to make it more difficult for citizens of Florida to register to vote and cast a ballot, namely:
1) Reducing the number of days for early voting from 14 days to eight days, and altogether eliminating early voting on the Sunday before the Tuesday election.
2) Requiring third-party voter registration organizations to submit voter registration applications within 48 hours of receipt instead of ten days as provided by existing law, and imposing a fine of $50 for each failure to comply with the deadline, and imposing fines up to $1,000 for failing to comply with other provisions.
3) Disallowing voters who move from one Florida county to another to make an address change at the polls on the day of an election and vote a regular ballot, except for active military voters and their family members. Read More
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is asking that Congress investigate whether restrictive new voting laws in more than a dozen states — including Florida — are part of an “orchestrated effort to disenfranchise voters,” according to a letter released Tuesday.
The request by the Florida Democrat — who’s running for re-election in 2012 — follows a report last month by the Brennan Center for Justice, a watchdog group based in New York City, that found new regulations passed in 14 states, most them Republican-controlled, could make it harder for 5 million voters to cast ballots nationwide.
Nelson has requested that a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hold field hearings in the 14 states to see whether the efforts were coordinated and “to what extent such might be illegal,” according to a letter he sent to U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., chair of the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights. Read More
Should we make voting as easy as possible so that more people will vote? If we make voting easier, will many ineligible people vote? When Maine votes on Nov. 8 on Question 1 — deciding whether to overturn the Legislature’s plan to end voter registration on future election days — it will answer these two questions. In recent decades, Maine has allowed people to register to vote on Election Day, eliminating the need to register separately and in advance. It is one of 10 states that have so-called “same-day” registration, which will still be in effect on Nov. 8.
The theory is that voting is made easier by eliminating the need for advance registration, so more people will vote. Although many factors affect turnout, in the 2010 elections, average turnout in the “same-day” states was 48.3 percent, compared with 40.9 percent in the United States as a whole. Encouraging voting is American public policy. For example, the federal “motor-voter” law allows registration when renewing a driver’s license. Read More
Election day is a week from Tuesday. It’s an odd-numbered year, so that means city and school board races only. Odd numbered years usually get low turnout, but still cost taxpayers a lot of money. Mecklenburg County election officials said turnout for odd-numbered years can be as low as 20 percent. But they say it still costs as much as $450,000 to pull off city and school board elections. That’s more than $3.50 per vote.
WSOC asked Catawba College professor Michael Bitzer why the state doesn’t hold the city and school board races on even years, with the Presidential, Congressional, Gubernatorial, General Assembly, and county election as a way to possibly boost turnout and save tax dollars. Bitzer said maybe the state will one day. He also said some people may worry that city and school board elections will get overshadowed if they have to compete with the bigger races.
“Unlike in a Presidential year where you’ve got a bombard of campaign advertisement — big time issues. That really kind of sucks the air out of local issues,” said Bitzer. Read More
As Egypt prepares to begin what activists hope will be a new era in democracy – which promises to be as confusing as it is monumental – the first democratic elections in a country with more than 6,000 years of history are starting this month. There has been a flurry of stories on issues facing candidates – charges of discrimination against female candidates, the questionable efficacy of a ban on preventing those with ties to deposed President Hosni Mubarak’s National Democratic Party from running etc. But little is known about a list of names, a list that some say is nearly 30,000 names long, identifying people who have been prohibited from voting due to past criminal convictions.
Disenfranchising former convicts is stipulated by Egyptian law – and many other countries have similar regulations when it comes to who can and cannot vote. And In a nation of more than 80 million, disenfranchising a few thousand might not seem like a big deal. However, voters’ rights advocates take issue with two elements with the mechanism by which tens of thousands of criminal record holders are prohibited from voting in the upcoming parliamentary elections: The lack of transparency and the fact that the process relies on a database which seems to have no way of exempting former political prisoners from the list of banned voters. Read More
A Nigerian court rejected a challenge to President Goodluck Jonathan’s victory in an April election, scuppering demands by the main opposition party for a recount in several areas of the country. Jonathan was declared winner of the April 16 election with 59 percent of the vote. But his nearest rival, former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, who polled 32 percent, refused to accept the outcome.
Buhari’s Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) party filed a petition to challenge the result in May, arguing the vote was marred by irregularities. “The petition fails in its entirety and is hereby dismissed,” Justice Kumai Akaahs told the court on Tuesday, reading out a unanimous decision by five judges. Read More