Is online voting safe? And are we even ready for it? - Front Page Live

Is online voting safe? And are we even ready for it?

Dog with computer

Pixabay / Martine Auvray

If the coronavirus shuts down polling places and keeps people home on Election Day, at least we have a back-up plan. Mail-in ballots. But what about those who need assistance filling one out?

There are more disabled voters in America than you’d think: 30,000,000. For those people, we may need a back-up, back-up plan. Is online voting the answer?

Accessible Machines

close up of a blue eye


Those who are disabled, such as the blind, usually vote at a polling place at an accessible voting machine. However, if the visually-impaired received a mail-in ballot, they would still need assistance to fill it out. That would make it impossible to keep their votes private. West Virginia has another alternative for their June 9th primary. Online voting.

“If somebody has a better approach to fully enfranchise 30 million disabled voters we’re open to it.” – Bryan Finney, founder, and CEO of Democracy Live

West Virginia has allowed eligible overseas and military voters to cast ballots through a mobile app since 2018. They have expanded their technology to include a cloud portal for the aforementioned voters plus those residents with disabilities.

The Iowa debacle

Why the Iowa Caucuses were a sh*t-show according to pundits


The Iowa Caucus mobile app debacle in February didn’t have any security issues. It was just a bad app. And that was a sparsely populated state and a caucus where participation was low.

The risk is too high

A Laptop and notebook on a desk


Nineteen states and the District of Columbia allow a select number of overseas voters to return ballots by fax or email. Seven additional states allow returns by fax.

However, last week, the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and the Election Assistance Commission sent a risk assessment to states, warning that “electronic ballot return technologies are high-risk even with controls in place.”

Democracy Live

A tablet with the Google homepage on the screen


West Virginia, Delaware, and New Jersey will be testing a remote digital voting system through Democracy Live, a company that has piloted its ballot return cloud portal for a decade. To date, their secure portal has been used in more than 1,000 elections in 96 countries.

Here’s how it will work:

  • Eligible voters receive an email detailing how to log into the cloud portal.
  • Voters fill out a PDF ballot – which can be submitted electronically or mailed in.
  • Election officials receive the digital ballots and print them out.
  • Election officials now have a paper trail.

If that sounds great, it is. Kind of.

Stylized photo of woman covered in computer code


If voters submit their ballot through the cloud, they have no way of knowing if the printout made by an election official matches their vote. Thus, post-election audits — regardless of the paper trail — would carry little weight, as tampering and hacking could have taken place before the printouts were made.

“It’s meaningless if the electronic record has already been hacked.” — Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program at NYU School of Law.

Hack attack

Shadowy image of a man sitting at a computer


It’s tough to prevent systems from being hacked. Banks, tech companies, health care providers — even the National Security Agency — have been hacked. However, while banks and hospitals can access and review the data on their servers continuously, voting systems need to preserve voter privacy — which makes it even tougher to have a secure system.

“Just because it’s not been hacked today doesn’t mean it won’t be hacked tomorrow. Or later today.” — David Kennedy, CEO, security consulting firm TrustedSec

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