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The time and place for paper records

October 3, 2016

From MIT Technology Review. RTWT.

The Internet Is No Place for Elections

Despite what your local election officials may tell you, you can’t trust the Internet with your vote.

This election year we’ve seen foreign hackers infiltrate the Democratic National Committee’s e-mail system as well as voter databases in Arizona and Illinois. These attacks have reinforced what political scientists and technical experts alike have been saying for more than a decade: public elections should stay offline. It’s not yet feasible to build a secure and truly democratic Internet-connected voting system. […]

Nevertheless, 32 states and the District of Columbia allow at least some absentee voters (in most cases just voters who live overseas or serve in the military) to return their completed ballots using poorly secured e-mail, Internet-connected fax machines, or websites. In the most extreme example, all voters in Alaska are allowed to return their completed ballots over a supposedly secure website. And there is a danger that Internet voting could expand. Vendors like the Spanish company Scytl, which supplied Alaska’s system, and Southern California-based Everyone Counts keep marketing these systems to election boards against the advice of security experts. And they haven’t opened their systems to public security testing. […]

Even if the risk of cybercrime could be mitigated, building an online voting system that preserves the core components we expect from democratic elections would be technically complex. Today’s commercial systems do not achieve this; most of the states that offer ballot return via the Internet ask that voters first waive their right to a secret ballot. The key challenge is building an online system that generates some sort of credible evidence that proves the outcome “is what you say it is” during an audit, while maintaining voter privacy and the secret ballot, says Rivest. […]

In the 90s, when my business partner and I were trying to solve problems with telephone automation*, we kicked around the idea of voting by phone. After several goes at that idea, we concluded there was no practical way to (a) make it secure and (b) keep it secret. Not much as changed in the interval, despite different technologies.

*For a list of all the ways technology has failed to improve the quality of life, please press three.

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