Online Voting

What's happening?

On November 8th, citizens across the country will head to their polling places and cast their ballots. On average, voters wait 14 minutes, but wait times differ across states and correlate with race and socioeconomic status. On average, black and Hispanic voters wait over 20 minutes and white voters wait only 13 minutes. In some states, the average wait can be up to 45 minutes. In other words, it can be time-consuming to vote, even more so for historically marginalized people.

 

Why don't we have online voting? 

Why is it important?

Online voting is controversial worldwide. All citizens can vote online in some places, like Estonia and parts of Switzerland. In the U.S., some states allow some voters to use an online portal: in Missouri, this option is available to military personnel in a "hostile zone". In North Dakota and Arizona, military or overseas citizens can absentee vote online. In Alaska, online voting is available to all residents.

 

But computer scientists raise serious questions about the security of online voting. In fact, some have already demonstrated ways to tamper with Alaska's system, changing votes remotely, en masse, and without detection. When the same group demonstrated vulnerabilities in Norway's system in 2013, the country ended online voting

Debate it!

Should we have online voting available in all states, for all voters?

No: 

Online voting is woefully insecure and completely ineffective. Not only would an online voting system be a waste of taxpayer money, it would leave our voting system wide open to tampering and do nothing to increase voter turnout.

 

It seems like online voting would increase the number of people who vote—but it doesn't. Studies show reforms that make it easier to vote mostly benefit those who vote already, and have little effect on those who don't. In fact, one MIT researcher, Adam Berinsky, found "reforms designed to make it easier for registered voters to cast their ballots actually increase, rather than reduce, socioeconomic biases in the composition of the voting public."

 

Further, no existing online voting system is secure, and none is likely to be any time soon. Computer scientists testing Estonia's system found the risks were too great and concluded "due to these risks, we recommend that Estonia discontinue use of the I-voting system." Alaska's system is even worse. Investigators found ways to alter votes en masse without detection—and it only took them a day to do it. In DC's (now disbanded) online voting trial, University of Michigan computer scientists changed and revealed votes in less than one hour—all while playing the Michigan fight song from the official voting website.

 

Online voting is dangerous and quite simply doesn't work. 

Yes: 

It should be as easy as possible for citizens to exercise their right to vote. We need online voting to increase the ease of voting and to help alleviate the intolerable inequality—in the form of longer wait times for minorities, discriminatory voter ID laws, and old-fashioned human error—that in-person voting allows.

 

Voter turnout in the U.S. is abysmal, ranking 31st among the 35 peer OECD countries. Many factors influence this lack of participation, but chief among them is the system by which we cast votes. 42% of Americans didn’t take a single vacation day last year—and yet we expect them to take time off work to vote? It is shameful that we have a voting system that effectively makes people choose between earning a living and exercising their right to vote. We already bank and file taxes online. It's time for online voting.

 

By reducing barriers to voting, online voting would also change the character of our elections for the better. Instead of focusing on the now-difficult task of getting people out to vote or pandering to those you know will, candidates can speak more broadly to Americans and address what most citizens—not most citizens who can get to a polling place—care about.

 

Our current voting system is unacceptable, riddled with roadblocks to fulfilling citizens' rights as Americans. We can reduce these unfair barriers to voting by establishing a secure, private system online.

Learn more...

  1. The computer scientist team's account of hacking the DC online voting system
    • "To show that we had control of the server, we left a “calling card” on the system’s confirmation screen, which voters see after voting. After 15 seconds, the page plays the University of Michigan fight song."
  2. The Scientific American on developments in online voting technology
    • "Great minds are working with biometric ID systems, two-factor authentication and new cryptographic systems in hopes of solving the problem."
  3. Vox's investigation of online voting and the controversy around it
    • "One reason it's so hard to secure online voting systems is that the votes need to be secret. [...] Perhaps one place this could work is in Britain and Singapore — where voting isn't secret."
  4. The Atlantic on race-based inequalities in wait times to vote
    • "Voting lines are a good place for would-be election reformers to look. Despite dire claims of rampant voter fraud that necessitates ID laws, alarmists have produced few real examples of fraud. Here, in contrast, is a documented problem."