During the 2012 American presidential election, 129 million people cast ballots, while 106 million eligible voters neglected to do so. That’s only a 54.9 percent conversion rate, not to mention the 51 million voters who weren’t registered. Meanwhile, in 2015, there were almost 172 million Americans making purchases online. Those are apples and oranges, admittedly, but the ease with which the shopping occurs only helps its proliferation. If the ultimate goal is maximizing the country’s voting turnout, shouldn’t we develop an Internet voting system? Voting from a computer at home could be far easier than waiting in long lines at polling stations or filling out mail-in forms. But can it ever happen? “For as far into the future as I can see, the answer is no,” says David Jefferson, a computer scientist in the Center for Applied Scientific Computing at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. In May 2015, Jefferson examined the possibility of Internet voting in a paper called “Intractable Security Risks of Internet Voting.” For anyone who has ever owned a personal computer, the first problem is obvious: malware.
“Unless we were to re-design the Internet from the ground up, there’s not likely to be a solution to these problems. We’re not even remotely close to guaranteeing that there’s no malware on your computer,” Jefferson says. The malware can do whatever task it’s programmed to accomplish, from erasing votes cast to changing them. And they can do these things without leaving any trace. “The malware might erase itself a half second later, and so there might be no evidence. And that’s one of half a dozen of problems.”
There are also the standard risks that come with any online activity. Denial-of-service attacks can shut down the voting system by overloading it. Mirror sites can trick voters into thinking their votes have been submitted, when really the information travels nowhere. Potential ransomware attacks can steal and encrypt votes, to be sold to the highest bidder. “Imagine the crisis if somebody encrypted the votes and said [to the government], ‘For one million, I’ll give you the key,’” Jefferson says. “Who would pay?”
Other scenarios are more insidious. A person using spyware can see who someone has voted for, allowing for scenarios that secret ballot attempts to solve: a person being outed for an unpopular vote, or punished for not voting a certain way. It might also increase the likelihood of selling votes: Spyware would allow an outside party to verify that a seller followed through, a prerequisite for any smart buyer.
“The only way to avoid bribery and/or coercion with remote voting is to have complicated voting and registration processes that allow voters to vote multiple times or use different passwords for true and bogus votes,” writes Poorvi Voorha, a professor of computer science at George Washington University, in an email. That means developing a system so complex and secure it takes away a lot of what makes the prospect of online voting appealing. “Unless we were to re-design the Internet from the ground up, there’s not likely to be a solution to these problems,” Jefferson says.
Full Article: Why Can’t We Just Vote Online? — Pacific Standard.