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Risk

2/5/2008
12:10 PM
George V. Hulme
George V. Hulme
Commentary
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Internet Voting: Bad Or Good Idea?

It's Super Tuesday, perhaps the most critical day for the presidential election until the general elections this fall. And some voters abroad will have the option to cast their ballot online. That's online, as in over the Internet. Are we really ready for this?

It's Super Tuesday, perhaps the most critical day for the presidential election until the general elections this fall. And some voters abroad will have the option to cast their ballot online. That's online, as in over the Internet. Are we really ready for this?If you are a Democrat overseas, you can go to VoteFromAbroad.org, where you had the option to download a PDF ballot to fax or mail in, or you can vote online.

That just gives me the heebe geebees. It simply seems too easy to tamper with electronic information to trust electronic voting without a paper trail, let alone remote, Internet-based electronic ballots.

Although the traffic is encrypted to the voting Web site, all it takes is a number of insecure notebooks or desktops to infiltrate the system. Virus and worm writers have had no trouble crafting malware designed to pilfer usernames and passwords to access financial systems, so how difficult would it be to tinker with electronic votes? And the argument that we conduct financial transactions online, so we can also vote online, doesn't hold much water for me. While I'm comfortable managing credit cards and financial accounts online because the banks and credit card companies reduce the consumers culpability to $50 in most cases, there's no such insurance for an election gone bad.

What would happen if an election was compromised, and there was no way to prove who actually won? The only thing we'd have to recount, with Internet voting, would be the bits -- not paper -- and bits are just too easily altered, or destroyed, to trust with democracy.

About four years ago, I reported a story about how the Department of Defense attempted to set up an Internet voting system for servicemen and women overseas. If anyone deserves the right for the most convenient way to vote, it's them. Nonetheless, the DoD shelved the Internet voting system, then known as Serve, or the Secure Electronic Registration and Voting Experiment.

The project was ditched following a report, conducted by several security experts, who concluded that the Internet itself, and current software applications, are inherently too insecure to provide a trustworthy platform for voting. Today, the DoD enables overseas military to vote by fax. The DoD made the right decision.

So what's changed since 2004? And if the Department of Defense struggled with designing an Internet-based voting program it could trust, how well can we expect the private sector, or the Democrats in Michigan, to do?

To be fair, the Michigan Democratic party has been conducting Internet voting since 2004, with no publicly known hitches. But e-mail was relatively safe for decades before mass-mailer worms changed all of that in 1999 and 2000. And if something ever goes wrong with an Internet-based voting system, we may wish we had "dangling" chads to count.

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