The tone of urgency in this newly published article Internet Voting in the U.S. in the Communications of the ACM* (October 2012) is striking. The article doesn’t waste any time with niceties. The unusual urgency was, in its own right, a signal of the importance of the issue to me.
Internet voting is not trustworthy
Use of the internet is not recommended at this point in time because the possibility and variety of errors and security breaches that can occur are myriad. They are not hypothetical, but were demonstrated recently, in a large test in Michigan, which the article describes.
Sources of error can be human or electronic mishap. There is also the possibility of malicious intent.
Is Internet voting, despite problems, superior to alternatives?
In fact, the answer is “No”. Internet voting is shown to be less secure than traditional paper voting and less secure than electronic voting.
The point is that voting at a physical polling location, despite vote collection method, is more trustworthy. This is true, given the current status of internet security.
Internet voting under unusual circumstances
Many registered voters are geographically distant from polling places, whether within the U.S.A., or more dramatically, when overseas, e.g. as part of a tour of duty in a war zone. Other examples include U.S. citizens working for the State Department or Peace Corps public service, or ex-patriots who happen to be in less accessible parts of the world, for any reason.
These scenarios were researched. Absentee ballots were dispatched by means determined to be most expeditious and secure. Ballots that were completed and returned by even the slowest and (probably) least reliable methods, international overseas mail, arrived intact and in time to be counted, based on the ACM article’s findings and review of electoral research.
Why is this of such importance? Because there are already some counties in the U.S. that have transitioned to internet voting, with others contemplating it.
It is vital to keep the decision to use or not use internet voting distinctly separate from external influences. Regardless of opinion about voter identification requirements, Internet voting is unwise, and subject to numerous errors at this time.
* The ACM is the Association of Computing Machinery. It is non-partisan, apolitical and acknowledged throughout the world as the primary professional association for scholarship in the field of computing.