There are plenty of people who live in the USA, but they are not there when it is time to vote. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could vote digitally instead of sending out the painful paper ballots. Well that may be one step closer to reality, if some serious issues can be overcome.
Electronic technologies could be deployed immediately and reliably to augment slower postal mail for distributing ballots to U.S. citizens living abroad, but using telephone, e-mail, and the Web to transmit completed ballots still faces significant, unresolved issues, according a new report* released today.
Prepared by the Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) with funding from the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), the report provides the first wide-ranging look at the security threats associated with potential electronic technologies for overseas voting and identifies possible ways of mitigating these threats.
The need to verify that each completed ballot comes from a registered voter while preserving voter privacy and has not been changed in transit makes the threats to the return of voted ballots by e-mail and Web “difficult to overcome,” according to the NIST report.
For example, the report noted that automated computer systems could allow voters to cast ballots using a telephone or on a Web site. However, such systems are difficult to audit, so attacks and malfunctions could go unnoticed. Voters might also be tricked into submitting votes on fraudulent Web sites using common spoofing and phishing tactics.
Another issue raised by the report is that e-mail and Web-based methods send election information through computer systems outside the control of election officials. Encryption could be used to protect communications between voters and Web sites, and this technology is widely deployed. E-mail encryption is also possible but less widely available.
Distributing blank ballots to overseas voters by fax, e-mail, and Web methods “do not pose significant risks to the integrity of elections” as long as appropriate measures are taken, according to the report. While some states already use these methods, wider use would allow more voters to receive electronically transmitted ballots in a fraction of the time required to send ballots via postal mail.
To ensure that voters receive unaltered ballots, the NIST report recommended specific control measures, such as cryptography and back up communications lines, depending on the electronic method chosen. Voter registration could also be accomplished electronically, it said, using these technologies.
OK, so that is a tough order to fill. Even so it would be great if we could all vote digitally.