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By Katy Owens Hubler

In spite of a decade and a half of experimenting with Internet voting, we are no closer to using it routinely than we were in the late 1990’s.

The chief concern: security.

What is the incentive to offer online voting?

  • Convenience—As more and more aspects of everyday life move online it makes some voters, especially “millennials” who have grown up with a technological fluency not seen in previous generations, wonder why they can’t cast their ballots online.
  • Potential to reduce costs and boost turnout.
  • Accessibility—Make voting more accessible for absentee voters and voters with disabilities.

Efforts to make voting more accessible have driven the few and incremental steps toward Internet voting in the U.S. So far, Internet-assisted voting has been deployed primarily to accommodate military and overseas voters. This year, Utah passed legislation expanding an Internet voting pilot to include voters with disabilities. 31 states and DC permit some voters to return their ballots via electronic means: email, fax or a web-based system.  

However, the biggest hurdle to online voting is still security, as shown in numerous pilot projects.

  • Widespread internet access and a national ID card that can be used for online transactions have made Internet voting in Estonia popular. But just before the most recent nationwide elections in May (in which Estonians could cast an online ballot) an international group of researchers issued a report pointing out flaws the system. The researchers were able to hack into the system and show places where they could have cast fake votes or altered the final count.  Nonetheless, 31 percent of voters used the system in the 2014 elections.
  • Norway piloted Internet voting in 2011 and 2013 but recently announced that it will not continue to allow voters to vote online—it didn’t significantly boost turnout and there were security concerns.
  • Several pilot projects have been conducted in the U.S., including a 2010 pilot project held by the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics. Its mock election was hacked by a team from the University of Michigan. The team was able to change votes and reveal ballots. Election officials didn’t detect the intrusion until a voter testing out the system asked them about the University of Michigan fight song that played after the ballot was submitted.

States are still looking to experiment with ways to use the Internet to make voting easier, though.  In 2010 West Virginia conducted a successful pilot program for UOCAVA voters to return voted ballots online. Alaska and Arizona both currently allow some voters to cast their ballots via a web-based system, and Connecticut has been looking for a secure and private way to do so since 2011.

Katy Owens Hubler is an elections policy specialist at NCSL.

Posted in: Elections
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This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.

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