Arizona Leads The Way As Military And Overseas e-Voting Gains Momentum
Web-based balloting allows military and overseas voters to participate in elections using secure Internet sites. Voter information can be presented, downloaded, or transmitted through the use of web pages and interactive forms. Arizona is the only state that currently provides for military and overseas voters to vote online. Launched in September 2008, the web-based voting system permits military and overseas citizens to upload completed ballots directly to the secretary of state's web site. According to the official site, the system gained approval from the U.S. Department of Justice and uses "industry standard, 128-bit encryption technology to ensure security, privacy and the overall integrity of the ballot. This is the same type of security used for online banking and credit card transactions." Each voter is assigned a user ID name and a password to log on, register, request an early ballot, and vote.
In the 2008 general election at least five other states (Mo., Fla., Colo., Mont. and Wash.) permitted the casting of a ballot electronically; that is, either by e-mail or a secure online system, e.g., using virtual private network (VPN) technology. Most VPN systems use the Internet as the public infrastructure and a variety of specialized protocols to support private communications. The "link-layer" protocols of the virtual network are said to be tunneled through the larger network. VPN allows elections officials to authenticate users, encrypt data and otherwise link to voters through key-coded data signals.
Missouri accepts ballots submitted by e-mail from military or civilians serving in a designated inaccessible country posing imminent danger. This administrative program, however, only covers those persons defined by statute as federal service voters -- persons working for, or in support of, the federal government in either a military or civilian capacity. More information on its program can be found on the Missouri secretary of state web site.
In November, Okaloosa County, Florida conducted a privately-funded pilot program -- the Operation Bravo Project (Bring Remote Access to Voters Overseas) that allowed 93 registered overseas voters to vote electronically. Using touch-screen laptops at electronic voting kiosks in the United Kingdom, Germany and Japan, voters could review a paper record of their choices before casting their vote. All ballots were digitally signed by the voters, then encrypted and transmitted to a secure data center using a VPN channel on the Internet. The County's Canvassing Board decrypted and tabulated the 93 ballots cast. A 100% manual audit validated the system's performance and all records matched.
Okaloosa County Supervisor of Elections Pat Hollarn, a former Air Force spouse, spent years at overseas assignments. "The disenfranchisement of overseas voters has been recognized as a problem since the Korean War. Even today, overseas voters are not well-served by the current mail-in absentee voting process. The only reliable way to reach overseas voters is by electronic means," she said. Voters reported the system was easy to use. One commented: "This establishes my confidence that my vote will be received in time for the election."
Colorado permits only service members without access to a fax machine to receive and submit a ballot by e-mail. County election offices in Montana may opt to receive ballots by e-mail (or fax). Debbe Merseal, Chief Elections Deputy in Missoula County, notes that most of the larger counties provide this option, which is password protected:
Each blank ballot sent includes a privacy disclaimer. As long as they (military or overseas voter) can scan their signature, we will accept a scanned ballot sent by e-mail. Almost all of the military and overseas citizens have access to a computer, which is not always the case with a fax.
In 2004, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) abruptly canceled an internet pilot program that would have involved as many as 100,000 military and overseas voters. The Secure Electronic Registration and Voting Experiment (“SERVE”) would have been implemented in 50 counties in seven states to serve voters covered by the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) of 1986. Four computer scientists asked by the DOD Federal Voting Assistance Program to evaluate the system issued a report raising concerns about the security of Internet voting and its vulnerability to cyber-attack, which led the Pentagon to cancel the experiment.
In December 2008, the National Institute of Standards and Technology on behalf of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission released its report: A Threat Analysis on UOCAVA Voting Systems examining electronic transmission options -- telephone, fax, e-mail and the Internet for UOCAVA voting. One of the report's conclusions was: "While threats to telephone, e-mail, and the web can be mitigated through the use of procedural and technical security controls, they are still more serious and challenging to overcome." Citing significant challenges to the integrity of the election, the report notes:
A significant threat to web-based ballot distribution is that attackers could lure voters to web sites posing as legitimate sites operated by election officials. This could be done via sophisticated technical attacks or simple social engineering attacks.
As legislatures seek solutions to expediting ballot transit time, an increasing number of bills are being introduced this year that would incorporate electronic mail or online protocols to assist military and overseas voters. In Washington state, Senator Steve Hobbs recently introduced SB 5522 to create an Internet-based voting program for military and overseas voters. Requested by the secretary of state, the bill calls for a program that must protect secrecy of the ballot in addition to being a secure protocol. Senator Hobbs is a member of the Army National Guard Reserve and proudly served in Iraq and Kosovo. Voting from Iraq and the difficulty it posed motivated him to sponsor the bill:
Our men and women are fighting for our freedoms, yet the current system is denying them the opportunity to cast a ballot that will likely be counted. We need to do better. When you're in combat, mail delivery is never guaranteed. In Baghdad, mail was delivered to the Green Zone and then routed to Camp Victory. If the truck carrying the mail was ambushed or a road was shut down after an enemy attack, mail could be lost or destroyed and the result is the same -- ballots that never make it.
The bill has since been referred to the state's Government Operation and Elections Commmittee, which held a hearing on Feb. 9. A companion version was introduced in the House (H 1624).
In Colorado and Hawaii legislation is pending to create a pilot program and to study the feasibility of Internet voting for military and overseas voters. Colorado House Bill 1205 and Hawaii SB 631 would require that a pilot program be implemented in time for the 2010 general election. Meanwhile, Connecticut is considering legislation to incorporate e-mail into the ballot transit process. A number of states, including Arizona, Florida, Minnesota, Montana, Oregon and Wisconsin, currently authorize blank ballots to be e-mailed to a service member, but require that a signed ballot be returned either in original form or by facsimile. O
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