vote online

Why don’t we have a system to vote for President online? It’s 2012. Everything is online. Is it because officials want us to be uncomfortable? Because according to Wikipedia election day “celebrations” include ” visiting polling precincts?” Because filling out tiny ovals is fun? No. None of that is fun. You could probably eliminate the whole problem of people not voting if they could do it easily online, rather than waiting for hours in polling places. And some places are already trying it.

Edmonton, Alberta, for instance, is implanting an online voting system, and just finished a test according to PC Magazine:

Edmonton gave voters (residents and anyone else from around the world who chose to participate) until noon on November 2 to cast their ballots in the Jellybean Election, which is what it sounds like: the electorate voting on a favorite jellybean color (along with ice cream and movie).

The election is a test run for the city’s general election in October of next year, to allow participation for those who cannot vote in person. The city hopes to gauge how residents would feel about using the system as a viable alternative and to test the technology itself for voter privacy, security, auditability, and usability.

That sounds fantastic! I would love that!

The town of Markham, in Ontario, Canada, has had online ballots in local elections since 2003. When they began allowing people to vote online, they found that the number of people voting increased by 300%. Of course it did. You are on a computer right now. Imagine how much easier it would be to vote from here than actually having to go someplace – possibly by foot! In the cold!

Sweden, Latvia and Switzerland are also testing internet voting. And Estonia has had its whole population able to vote online since 2007!

And want to hear something really interesting? We were doing, it, too. Were. We’re not anymore.

Thirteen years ago Arizona offered online voting. The idea of being able to vote online around the turn of the millennium seemed as though it would be especially beneficial to anyone who has disabilities. As The Progressive point out:

There are more than 30 million Americans with disabilities of voting age, yet the Federal Election Commission reports that there are more than 20,000 inaccessible polling places. Some are located in basements or buildings without ramps, and others only offer machines that are outdated and unworkable for a person who is blind, deaf, or physically impaired. Too many citizens with disabilities can only cast their vote curbside, or are denied the right to a secret ballot when they have to speak their vote out loud for someone else to mark down. If impediments were removed and people with disabilities began voting in the same proportion as other Americans, fully 3.2 million more people would be casting ballots.

It would also benefit those stationed overseas. CyberTheVote notes: 

One online voting system was developed by the Defense Department (DOD) to be used by overseas military voters. Everyone understood that the first place online voting could have an impact was with these voters. Paper absentee ballots are inadequate enough for domestic voters. For military personnel stationed around the world, going through the process of mailing paper ballots is often daunting enough to drive them to not vote.

The first DOD pilot project was called VOI (Vote Over the Internet) and it was launched in 2000. It was so successful that the DOD later launched SERVE (Secure Electronic Registration and Voting Experiment) in 2004. In all technical trials, SERVE performed flawlessly as well.

But that was before the Bush elections when we seemingly realized that changing the voting system in any way was going to confuse everyone in Florida and we would vote in George Bush. Remarkably, that election seems to have made people so tentative about votes being mishandled in any way that we’ve regressed somewhat in our approach to voting. In large part, that’s because there was public outcry that we were trying to modernize our way of voting “too fast.” Besides which, online voting terrifies people, because hackers.

And, while that seems like the concern of someone who watches entirely too many mid-90’s movies, it can actually be done. Alex Halderman, a professor at the University of Michigan carried out such an experiment. The results were not great unless you are a villainous hacker, in which case, this is a story of human triumph:

In 36 hours, Halderman’s students successfully carried off a shell injection attack, taking full control of the server, stealing votes and changing them to their own ballots, unmasking voting, rigging all future votes for voters, and playing the U Mich fight song 15 seconds after the Thank You page showed up.

Probably in a real election it would be something other than U of M’s fight song. Probably something scarier. Maybe Guns ‘n Roses. They seem pretty scary.

In any event, the idea of people tampering with votes does raise a lot of hesitation about whether or not this would be the best system – but then, haven’t we always been able to tamper with votes to some degree? I suppose we’ll get to see what happens in Canada, Switzerland, Sweden and, well, all the other countries who seem ahead of us in this regard. If they all elect Kevin Mitnick president, we’ll know that something has gone horribly wrong.

Pic via Wikipedia