Millions of personal, business and consumer transactions take place each day on the Internet. From banking and commerce to personal communication, we’re conducting more and more areas of our lives online.
But, a transaction we don’t yet make could become one of the most valuable innovations for our democracy — the assertion of trust, in the form of votes, between us and our government.
Advocates for Internet voting make compelling arguments about the transformative potential online voting can have on the electoral process. In short, from real time updates to flexibility of location, online voting increases the accessibility and ease of the whole process.
One such advocate is political scientist William J. Kelleher, who argues that “Internet voting can be conducted with a degree of security similar to an online purchase, a million dollar bank transfer, or a secret military communication.” Kelleher illustrates that Internet voting is currently being used in other parts of the world without security or technical problems and that rightly organized, it can empower the moderate, middle class voter.
An NPR editorial continues this line of argument asserting that more and more states are allowing overseas and military voters to return their ballots by digital fax or email. Why? They are trying to make voting easier for the millions of Americans who live overseas and are therefore often stripped of their constitutional rights by slow ballot delivery.
In light of this, the ability of everyone to vote online seems like the logical next step. As NY Times writer Matt Bai puts it: “I just renewed my car registration and paid my taxes online, but in November I’ll still have to wait in line to vote.”
But, it seems that the overwhelming reason we still vote in person, at the ballot box, is the uncertainty over whether or not online voting would be secure enough; will it be safe to submit the voted ballot online? Top cybersecurity official at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Bruce McConnell, argues that security surrounding Internet voting is “immature and under resourced.”
Security experts point to the danger of counterfeit websites, phishing attacks, hacks into the election system, or the insertion of computer viruses that tamper with election results. But it’s not just security experts who are wary of an Internet-based voting system.
While it might seem odd, some of the most committed supporters of paper ballots are in fact the best brains in the world of computer technology. David Wagner, Berkeley Professor of Computer Science, argues that there is “no way to guarantee your vote would be counted correctly, that if someone were to hack the central computer system, then someone could change votes, and there might be no way to detect that kind of election stealing.”
While Kelleher’s book “Internet Voting Now” tackles some criticisms about the feasibility of an online voting system, arguments for Internet voting have yet to address enough of these issues to win over the sceptics.
Countering security concerns and working towards building a commercially viable system are crucial strides towards an Internet voting movement. Americans Elect has made a start, but as we’ve already argued, they are still a long way from hitting the jackpot.
The key to creating something truly transformative is in creating the environment within which it can exist. Naysayers, therefore, should focus less on why it can’t be done, and spend more time thinking about how we can innovate for the sake of the citizens of our 21st century democracy. Yes, Internet voting might be “premature”, according to cybersecurity official Mr. McConnell, but for us at least, the question is not if, but when.
Sona Makker (@sonamakker) contributed to this article.
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- Online Voting ‘Premature’, Warns Government Cybersecurity Expert (npr.org)
- Internet Voting: Will Democracy or Hackers Win? (pbs.org)
- In Theory And Practice, Why Internet-Based Voting Is a Bad Idea (politics.slashdot.org)
- U.S. Takes First Steps Toward Internet Voting (mashable.com)
- Internet Voting Is Years Away, And Maybe Always Will Be (techopinions.com)
- The Elephant, the Donkey and the New Kid in the Block: Is Americans Elect Making Waves Through the Quagmire? (article-3.com)