No Online Voting Yet (How long Did You Wait In Line?)
While waiting in line to vote this evening, I was trying to figure out how long I've been waiting to vote online, with my computer. I think at least thirty-five years, since I first read about the idea that electronic voting could work in The Shockwave Rider, a 1975 novel by John Brunner.
From 0700 local until 1900 every veephone on the continent would display, over and over, two propositions, accompanied by a spoken version for the benefit of the illiterate. Most would be in English, but some would be in Spanish, some in Amerind languages, some in Chinese ... the proportions being based on the latest continental census. After each repetition would follow a pause, during which any adult could punch into the phone his or her code, followed by a "yes" or "no."
(Read more about Brunner's proposal for electronic voting)
So what is keeping us from online voting? The Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton hosted a streamed symposium on the state and future of voting technology. The recorded stream below is long, but skip around to find what experts have to say.
“Vendors may come and they may say they’ve solved the Internet voting problem for you, but I think that, by and large, they are misleading you, and misleading themselves as well,” Ron Rivest, the MIT computer scientist and cryptography pioneer, said at the symposium. “If they’ve really solved the Internet security and cybersecurity problem, what are they doing implementing voting systems? They should be working with the Department of Defense or financial industry. These are not solved problems there.”
The unsolved problems include the ability of malicious actors to intercept Internet communications, log in as someone else, and hack into servers to rewrite or corrupt code. While these are also big problems in e-commerce, if a hacker steals money, the theft can soon be discovered. A bank or store can decide whether any losses are an acceptable cost of doing business.
Voting is a different and harder problem. Lost votes aren’t acceptable. And a voting system is supposed to protect the anonymity of a person’s vote—quite unlike a banking or e-commerce transaction—while at the same time validating that it was cast accurately, in a manner that maintains records that a losing candidate will accept as valid and verified.
Given the well-understood vulnerabilities of networked computer systems, the problem is far from solved, says David Dill, a Stanford computer scientist. “Basically, it relies on the user’s computer being trustworthy. If a virus can intercept a vote at keyboard or screen, there is basically no defense,” Dill says. “There are really fundamental problems. Perhaps a system could be tightened so some particular hack won’t work. But overall, systems tend to be vulnerable.”
So, are you ready to vote online - and how long did you wait today?