Technology and voting: Could the next election be totally digital?

Photo Credit: Gizmodo
Photo Credit: Gizmodo

Today, we live in an age where people are constantly connected to their smartphones. We can use them for almost everything: browsing social media, checking e-mails, even transferring money. Why, then, are we not able to vote for the next leader of the free world from it?

Last week, a federal election agency took a step toward this very vision becoming a reality. The Election Assistance Commission, which was created after the presidential election in 2000, approved a measure to update the guidelines against which manufacturers test electronic voting machines to make sure they are secure and accessible.

“The guidelines we have now are so old that the iPhone hadn’t even come out when they were written,” said Christy McCormick, the commission’s chairwoman in an interview for The Washington Post.

The new approved guidelines will allow manufacturers to test machines against modern security and disability standards, allowing the machines to be certified by states ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

Some say that the act of voting is something that should be less technical and more mundane due to the security; however, there are many officials who say that technology can improve the workings of any election, such as cutting costs, engaging disenfranchised voters through social media and making registration more convenient.

Currently, 21 states offer some sort of online voter registration. Many states are currently testing ways to enhance the voter experience before the upcoming 2016 election.

The use of paper ballots may seem archaic at best when considering our current technology in the twenty-first century; however, many experts still believe that paper voting is the most sensible because of all the facets of an election.

An effective voting mechanism must provide anonymity, the ability to vote independently for voters with disabilities and a provision to check that the outcome is free from ma­nipu­la­tion.

When it comes to any form of internet-based voting systems, many experts argue that no clear solution currently exists to address the issues of verifiability and security.

A securely designed online system also needs to be easy to use, and so far that goal has eluded researchers, according to Poorvi Vora, an associate professor of computer science at George Washington University.

Vora is a part of group led by the Overseas Vote Foundation whose purpose is to answer the question if digital voting is possible to design while maintaining security, accessibility, anonymity, convenience and verifiability.

Currently, the answer to that question is no; however, the group says that a possible solution is near and will present its design to the election research community and federal agencies this summer. The largest issue with this potential system is online security.

Shortly after the 2014 midterm election, two researchers with the foundation published a paper that demonstrated how simple it was to hack into the PDF-based Internet voting system used by the state of Alaska, where voters could choose to download and complete a PDF ballot form and e-mail it back to the election official.

In the test, the researchers hacked into a home wireless router and changed selections made by the voter before the e-mail reached the official, leaving virtually no trace, showing the vulnerability of that system in particular.

Ultimately, election officials and researchers agree that online voting is still a worthy goal. With the constant increase and improvements of technology, it is very foreseeable that a digital system could be implemented in the near future.



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