Tuesday, March 5, 2013

And The Oscar goes to: Precinct voting

Image: All Things Media
Rush Holt, U.S. House Representative for New Jersey's 12th congressional district and Star-Ledger guest columnist, just published an article titled "Oscars put online voting problems back in the spotlight", in which he uses the ongoing online voting process for the 85th edition of the Oscars, to showcase the challenges Internet voting is facing.

In many respects, Representative Holt coincides with our views on Internet voting - expressed in the post Internet Voting, Strike Two. According to his words, "The fundamental problem is that online election systems must serve many contradictory ends. The system must be easily accessible to every registered voter, yet prevent unauthorized access by hackers. The system must credibly determine a voter’s identity, yet maintain the anonymity of each ballot."

The system also must be accessible to a variety of computer hardware and software, yet not be vulnerable to malware or bugs on any user’s computer. The system must use cutting-edge cryptographic tools, yet be simple enough that my 99-year-old mother can use it. And it must be accessible 100 percent of the time, though it will be a tempting target for denial-of-service attacks".

Another important point made in the article comes from a senior adviser at the National Institute of Standards and Technology who said, “Internet voting systems cannot currently be audited with a comparable level of confidence in the audit results as for those for polling place systems. Malware on voters’ personal computers poses a serious threat that could compromise the secrecy or integrity of voters’ ballots. And the United States currently lacks an infrastructure for secure electronic voter authentication.”

So, the very same attributes that make Internet voting so appealing, are hampering its adoption. Internet is a sexy offer, yet there are many issues that need to be addressed before its use can expand: Secrecy of the vote, security, freedom of speech, etc. 

Although we agree with Representative Holt on many issues, we draw a line when he favors the paper ballot over an electronic memory as the record of the vote. Any form of manual voting implies someone, or something interpreting the intent of the voter. Ultimately, that leads to potential controversies as auditing become less reliable. The 2000 Presidential election recount of 175,037 votes in Florida became a nightmare when auditors had to interpret the will of the voters expressed in the butterfly ballots.

Direct-recording electronic voting machines that provide voter-verified paper audit trails are the most advanced and reliable existing method to capture the will of voters. There is no interpretation necessary, and the printed version of the vote stands as a safeguard for post electoral audits.