A nonprofit watchdog group is suing an obscure Defense Department unit over its failure for three years to disclose the results of testing on the security safeguards of Internet voting systems that are increasingly being used to cast absentee ballots. The Pentagon unit, the Federal Voting Assistance Program, has effectively bankrolled many states’ shift to online voting, disbursing tens of millions of dollars in grants for the purchase of equipment that includes Internet balloting options. Its actions have drawn consternation from cyber experts, who have warned for years that Internet voting is an easy target for hackers who could tamper with or even fix election results. The government’s premier technology testing agency also has refused to endorse these systems. Now, on the eve of another federal election in which at least 31 states plan to use some form of online voting, the Electronic Privacy Information Center is pressing a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit demanding disclosure of the test results so it can disseminate the information nationwide.
In a statement to McClatchy, the Federal Voting Assistance Program said it expects to release the results in 2015. Because they “contribute to the larger, ongoing decision-making process” regarding the agency’s congressional mandate to conduct a demonstration project on electronic voting, it said, the test results are deemed “pre-decisional” and currently are exempt from disclosure.
The case, filed on Sept. 11 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, marks the latest skirmish in a long-simmering clash over the role of the Pentagon unit, whose primary task is to facilitate absentee voting by troops and other Americans living overseas.
The Pentagon unit said it conducted the tests for use by a separate agency, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, which is attempting to set standards for Internet voting systems. But a shortage of appointed commissioners has stalled that agency’s progress, and so the Pentagon agency said it is preparing to release the test results on its own.