Information Security

Online security & infrastructure: Why Americans can't vote online

These days, you can buy a television, run a business and create powerful friendships entirely online. Family members keep in contact thanks to the wonder of online sharing, sending photos and videos while chatting in real-time. People obtain degrees and students can advance their studies without ever leaving their rooms. With such complex interactions able to be managed online, it’s reasonable to ask why we can’t vote online? After all, people manage their bank accounts and rely on online security to keep them safe. So why isn’t this a sufficient basis to allow online voting?

Online Security and the difficulty for American voters

Before outlining why online voting isn’t allowed, despite rigorous online security existing, you should consider the voters themselves. There are numerous challenges for the average voter in America, all of which speak to wanting the convenience of online voting.

Voting abroad: There were potentially 2.6 million eligible voters for the 2016 election, according to the latest research. That is a significant number. However, to send their vote, different territories required different laws. For example, despite being US territories, residents of Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands can’t vote unless they move to one of the 50 states. This highlights the first aspect: online interactions tends to undermine notions of territory.

Long voting lines: Due to fewer polling stations, queues are also incredibly long. Early voting is also difficult to implement or sometimes opposed, for political – not practical – reasons.

There are other issues, too, such as not making it a national holiday. This means those who depend on wages or tips lose out since they’re missing a day of work. Many people also feel intimidated or go about intimidating ordinary voters.

Why online voting is not the solution

Considering the difficulties of voting, it makes sense to conclude online voting could solve numerous issues. You can vote anytime, avoid queues, and so on. But in reality, the situation is more complicated. In 2004, a panel was tasked with overseeing online voting for soldiers and others posted overseas. As The New York Times recently reported: “[the] system … to vote via the Internet is inherently insecure and should be abandoned, according to members of a panel of computer online security experts asked by the government to review the program.” The problem is how vulnerable the average personal computer is, especially to hacks.

Of course, this only points to why you should not use personal computers as a means of electronic voting. As we’ve reported before, SMS messaging can be used as a tool to keep elections safe when done in the right conditions. Considering how much more secure a text message can be, it makes sense to rather shift focus toward different platforms rather than abandon the entire project.

Of course, experts have said the entire idea must be put on ice until the internet itself is more secure. Comparing online security concerns to banks misses the point: what banks protect is money, which can be recovered, returned or replaced. A vote, however, does not exist in the same way. A hacker can alter a vote and it would not look out of place. Further, the governmental infrastructure is clearly lacking – with Russian hackers infiltrating the highest, most secure offices in the nation. The point is: if hackers are accessing the Joint Chiefs’ database, what hope does the average voter with a less-than-secure computer have? And considering the sheer number of votes cast, it simply would not be feasible in the near future.

It’s not that online voting is impossible. It’s that we have a long way to go before it’s even a consideration, given how online security remains a problem even within government departments.

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