In the Information Age, American society has demonstrated an increasing reliance on the Internet to make all parts of life simpler and more efficient. Since the 1990s, the idea of Internet Voting, where voters review and cast their ballot completely online, has been discussed many times. Despite the appeal of voting online, the United States is simply unprepared to implement a safe and fair online election system at the national level. The high-profile nature of the US Elections on the global stage would make any internet voting system implemented on a wide-spread scale an immediate target for hackers around the world. This fact alone would make it nearly impossible to adequately secure said system while still providing easy access to every one of the more than 300 million US citizens (U.S. Census). However, a growing movement seeks to use the power of online voting to assist disabled voters or deployed military cast their votes in a safe and secure manner.
Some analysts feel that the security concerns outweigh the benefits of providing internet voting to the entire population. Given the position the United States holds on the international stage, a fully online election would be a tempting target for hackers around the globe. Ensuring that eligible voters can cast only one vote while maintaining the lack of traceability between a single vote and the voter who cast it and guaranteeing that no ineligible individuals have access to the system is a task that many feel is not possible given today’s technology. “Verified Voting, a nonprofit organization aimed at promoting the ‘responsible’ use of technology in elections, says on its website that its mission is to ‘Halt the spread of internet voting and other insecure technology’” states Graham.
Some have argued that modern internet protocols are secure enough to handle important and sensitive information. For example, banking transactions, another highly sensitive activity, are now routinely completed online. Consumers seem to feel that interacting with their finances through the internet is acceptable; however, significant evidence demonstrates that user behavior opens financial institutions to hacking and data leaks. A single hack at JPMorgan Chase in 2014 resulted in 76 million households having their information leaked online (Silver-Greenberg).
Voting needs to be easily accessible to every eligible voter, and only 93% of adults say that they use the internet. That number gets even lower if you look at adults 65-year-old and above where it falls to only 75% (“Internet/Broadband Fact Sheet”). One area where internet voting could increase access would be populations who have some form of disability that interferes with their participation in the standard voting process. Individuals with vision deficits, for example, often have computer equipment which can “read” internet content to them audibly. The same equipment provides the individual options for how to interact with the internet content, including completing data entry tasks. Providing access to internet voting tools which have been configured to be “read” by this specialized computer equipment would allow the voter to cast their ballot independently. Additionally, eligible voters who are outside the country with no ability to return during the voting period, such as military service members, could make use of internet voting to ensure that their vote can be securely cast. Trials for both populations are ongoing and show some promise in providing secure options to ensure these voters have the ability to exercise their constitutional right to vote (Graham).
Vendors such as Democracy Live and Voting Works are working to provide secure internet voting services in the United States (Hautala). These services are currently in use for limited numbers of voters in specific jurisdictions across more than 30 states. When considered against the number of ballots cast in an election, the number coming from disabled voters or voters who are overseas during the voting period are a very small percentage, and therefore most security experts feel that allowing these voters to cast their votes using an Internet Voting system is an acceptable risk (Hautala). One high-profile test of internet voting occurred during the Iowa Democratic caucus in 2020. Using a mobile app, voters were able to cast their choice for Democratic Presidential candidate. The app quickly became overwhelmed by the volume of votes being cast, an issue that resulted in several days of delay in the caucus results. While the Democratic National Committee has stated that they will never use this particular app again, voters appear to be concerned about efforts to move all voting to internet voting (Graham). Kendall Hodson, the chief of staff for King County Elections in the State of Washington told Jefferson Graham of USA Today, “From what we heard [during our pilot project], it was clear to our office that voters are overwhelmingly not ready to move to all electronic ballot access and return.”
Many proponents of internet voting are pushing to put local elections online first. These elections typically have lower voter turn out but are often seen as having the most direct impact on voters as these are the positions that make the laws and codes which individuals interact with on a daily basis, such as building codes and education curriculums. These proponents feel that the relatively small nature of local elections limits interest from outside hackers and provides an opportunity to demonstrate internet voting systems to the public with minimal risks to the outcomes of an election. Implementing internet voting in local elections would also provide a way to find problems in the system in a way that would be simpler to correct that finding those same problems during a larger scale, i.e. national, implementation (Graham). Implementing a national internet voting system in the United States is not a good idea. Both experts and voters agree on that point. However, it does seem that starting with smaller, local elections would provide a much safer venue to introduce online elections to the American people. We’ve rarely seen foundational change in this country without some level of public support, and the best way to get support is for people to become aware of and comfortable with the issue at hand. In this case, casting their ballot online. Contact your local election authority and ask them where they stand on online voting. Ask how deployed military service members are allowed to cast their ballots. Talk about what accommodations are made for voters with disabilities to ensure that every eligible voter is able to cast their ballot. Starting to modernize smaller elections with a limited scope will allow us to being the long, slow process of moving into an era where it’s commonplace to use the internet to cast our ballot.
Graham, Jefferson. “Mobile voting is real, in a tiny way.” USA Today, 12 Oct. 2020, p. 01B. Gale In Context: Opposing Viewpoints, link.gale.com/apps/doc/A638166374/OVIC?u=dayt30401&sid=bookmark-OVIC&xid=b07c3d3e. Accessed 11 July 2021.
Hautala, Laura. “Online voting, called a major risk by security experts, opens up to more voters.” CNET, 22 October 2020, www.cnet.com/tech/services-and-software/online-voting-called-a-major-risk-by-security-experts-opens-up-to-more-voters/. Accessed 27 July 2021.
“Internet/Broadband Fact Sheet.” Pew Research Center, 7 April 2021, www.pewresearch.org/internet/fact-sheet/internet-broadband/. Accessed 27 July 2021.
Silver-Greenberg, Jessica and Matthew Goldstein and Nichole Perlroth. “JPMorgan Chase Hacking Affects 76 Million Households.” The New York Times, 2 October 2014, dealbook.nytimes.com/2014/10/02/jpmorgan-discovers-further-cyber-security-issues/. Accessed 27 July 2021.
“U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts: United States.” www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/US/POP010220. Accessed 27 July 2021.