Online Voting Advocates Overlook Clear Problems

In 2010, the District of Colombia abandoned its internet voting system before it was activated after University of Michigan professor Alex Halderman and his students hacked the system and changed the outcome of the mock vote. In response in response to recent publications by the Daily Kos and other progressive online voting advocates, Hans von Spakovsky, Senior Legal Fellow with The Heritage Foundation, recently published an op-ed criticizing this dangerous trend.

Von Spakovsky opposes online voting, “because of the fundamental security problems presented by online voting and the fact that it could result in large-scale voter disenfranchisement.”


He highlights the recent arrest of five Chinese officials who were recently indicted on charges that they hacked computer networks of American companies to steal information. He notes, “[t]he Chinese government has a special group, Unit 61398, that according to the Washington Post is ‘one of the most prolific hacking crews targeting Western companies.’”


The Pentagon abandoned its internet voting system for overseas military voters after computer experts released a report criticizing the program. Von Spakovsky writes, “The vulnerabilities the experts discovered ‘are fundamental in the architecture of the Internet and of the PC hardware and software that is ubiquitous today. They cannot all be eliminated for the foreseeable future without some unforeseen radical breakthrough.’” The report states that risks include, “insider attacks, denial of service attacks, spoofing, automated vote buying, viral attacks on voter PCs, etc.” The report also observes that the attacks, “could succeed and yet go completely undetected.”


Pamela Smith and Bruce McConnell with the Wall Street Journal echoed these concerns, writing, “[t]he underlying architectures of the Internet, the personal computer and mobile devices present numerous avenues of attack, making it impossible to safeguard a voting system with the security tools that are currently available. Methods of attack continue to become more sophisticated, well-resourced and damaging.”


They conclude by arguing, “[t]he move to online voting is motivated by good intentions: to improve access to the ballot box for voters who may have difficulty exercising the franchise, and to reduce costs. . . . But offering voters a voting method that is not secure and cannot ensure their vote will be counted as they were cast does them, and this country, no favors. Given the stakes, online voting should be shelved until it can be made secure."



Von Spakovsky concludes by arguing, “There is no way to design a secure system that protects the anonymity of the voting process yet at the same time confirms that my vote was received by election officials and not changed or intercepted along the path it took on the Internet.”