One of the questions I get asked the most when I speak on electronic voting is why voting is not done over the Internet. While I can clearly understand the idea of online voting being easy and efficient, I wanted to take a moment and give you the three biggest reasons why I think it is a bad idea, at least currently.
1. End Point Security. Voting online would mean that we would allow users to come into an online portal and cast their respective votes. The problem is that we have zero control over the security of the PC doing the voting. Your machine could be under the control of an attacker who could perform any myriad of attacks against you or the voting system. It would be trivial for an attacker who has gained control of your machine to both know how you voted and to modify your vote in real time. Everything from the simple to the sophisticated is within the realm of likely threats against home machines, for proof just look at the number and rates of bot-net infections. Imagine the chaos that could result from voting on compromised systems on a wide scale. The number of variables in this part of the equation alone is enough to give you nightmares.
2. Anonymity. The very processes that would be required to secure and authenticate the voter to the online voting system would also greatly impact their ability to remain anonymous. In order to verify the online identity of the voter, ensure that they only vote once and secure the voting session would require the system to correctly identify the voter against a database and then allow the voter to vote online. Such identification would involve a plethora of logged events and data records. Each of those log entries and data records could be compiled to help an attacker, especially an insider, identify particular voters and perhaps even isolate their vote cast. This has shown to be true with time stamps of paper trails in the current e-voting systems and would be only easier to accomplish with purely digital data.
3. Denial of Service Attacks. This is a severe issue. DoS attacks are trivial to perform these days, even against large scale systems and those with advanced capabilities. The prevalence and ease of bot-net attacks reduce the complexity of shutting down a site to the trivial level. If entire nation’s networks can be knocked off the net, then what chance would a voting portal have? Given the sensitivity, time requirements and public confidence that is needed in the electoral process, any successful denial of service attack against the voting system would be likely to cause chaos. In worst case scenarios, the entire electoral process could be disrupted or forced back to the alternative measures anyway.
In addition to these 3 reasons, many others exist. Sure, there are solutions for some of the problems – but they each range in scale from small to immense. While some countries have worked on or even adopted online voting, it continues to be a bad idea, in my opinion for the United States. The added complexity, cost and security issues certainly raise the idea well beyond the level of current workability. Cost alone is a killer given our current state of the economy, in my opinion.
So, the bottom line is that our current e-voting processes are not perfect. They do leave a lot to be desired, but work is being done in this area. Online voting, however, faces significant issues before it could even be considered as a relatively workable idea.
If you are interested in hearing more about e-voting, I will be presenting this Friday at TechColumbus on the issue, along with another member of the EVEREST team from the Ohio Secretary of State’s office. You can learn more and sign up at: http://www.techcolumbus.org/en/cev/314