As technology progresses and continues to simplify and automate certain aspects of our everyday lives, it is easy to sometimes ignore that vulnerabilities and cybersecurity risks are growing alongside it. While some industries and services utilizing the internet, such as banking, are able to mitigate risks, the use of the internet in every scenario is not one-size-fits-all. This is especially true when it comes to our democracy and the tools to facilitate safe and verifiable elections.
Verified Voting recently co-sponsored a grassroots webinar with Free Speech for People and Public Citizen to brief attendees on the very real dangers of internet voting and its undisputed harms already identified by experts in the field. Internet voting, or “electronic ballot return,” means returning a voted ballot over the internet electronically—including via mobile apps, email, fax, or a website portal.
Experts gathered for the webinar to debunk misconceptions and misplaced trust surrounding internet voting, noting that it may sound convenient, but it creates unsolvable vulnerabilities for our elections. There is “no known technology that can guarantee the secrecy, security, and verifiability of a marked ballot transmitted over the Internet,” according to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine 2018 report, Securing the Vote: Protecting American Democracy.
Aquene Freechild is the Co-Director of the Democracy Campaign for Public Citizen and kicked off the webinar explaining that electronic ballot return is a product that is not regulated. She highlighted four major concerns among experts in implementing this technology: (1) potential for malfunction, (2) lack of security, (3) difficulty in correcting issues, and (4) undetectable errors.
The webinar highlighted a case of internet-voting-gone-wrong in Australia. A clip of Professor Vanessa Teague—an Australian cryptographer, known for her work on secret sharing, cryptographic protocols, and the security of electronic voting—was shared with the audience. Causing the largest election failure in Australia’s history, internet voting disenfranchised countless voters in 2021 and forced a rerun.
Guests then heard from J. Alex Halderman, a professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Michigan. Dr. Halderman explained that since 2016, we have made progress in ways that can ensure our elections are trustworthy and trusted by providing affirmative evidence the election results are correct. Yet, this trust can easily be dismantled with internet voting, which will prevent the scientific community from being able to defend any election’s legitimacy.
Well-funded campaigns for states to adopt the practice have surged despite the national security and intelligence communities confirming internet voting cannot be secured. Dr. Halderman implored states to follow the science and take urgent action to prevent the use of internet voting, which could disrupt our longstanding trust in our democracy. Susan Greenhalgh, the Senior Advisor on Election Security to Free Speech For People, added that states must curtail electronic ballot return, not further expand it.
Juan E. Gilbert, PhD is the Andrew Banks Family Preeminence Endowed Professor and Chair of the Computer & Information Science & Engineering Department at the University of Florida, where he leads the Computing for Social Good Lab. Dr. Gilbert backed these assertions, sharing that the National Academies found there is no way to perform a safe and secure election through internet voting without accidental or intentional errors.
Derek Tisler serves as counsel in the Brennan Center for Justice’s Democracy Program and explained that American elections are heavily decentralized, held to tight budgets, staffed with minimal full-time employees who have little to no cybersecurity expertise, and maintain no regulatory framework, ultimately leaving too many challenges to even implement the technology.
Experts agreed that there are ways to continue to make voting easier and more accessible without the use of electronic ballot return. Overseas military voters have the option to return their absentee ballots using free expedited mail postage. Additionally, some states have increased deadlines to accept absentee ballots after Election Day if the ballots are postmarked on or before Election Day. Programs are being implemented to bring ballots or voting equipment directly to voters who need them due to accessibility or displacement needs. There has also been an uptick in curbside voting.
More should be done to securely expand access to voting, but internet voting is not a secure solution that can be considered at this point in time. With experts from the scientific, academic, and security sectors all in agreement, there are many things you can do over the internet, but voting shouldn’t be one of them. To learn more about harms and alternatives to internet voting, visit our website here.
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