Internet voting is no "magic ballot," distinguished committee reports

March 05, 2001

Panel calls for further study of security and societal issues

Trials should proceed in which Internet terminals are used at traditional polling places, but remote voting from home or the workplace is not viable in the near future. So says a new report, commissioned by the National Science Foundation (NSF), in which a committee of experts calls for further research into complex security and reliability obstacles that for now impede the Internet's use in public elections.

In December 1999, the White House directed NSF to lead a study of Internet voting. With a grant from NSF, the Internet Policy Institute (IPI, a nonprofit, nonpartisan institute) and the University of Maryland organized an October 2000 workshop whose results are summarized in the report available at http://www.internetpolicy.org/.

Internet voting systems fall into three categories: poll site voting (in which traditional election locations are augmented with Internet technology), kiosk voting (in which Internet terminals would be placed for convenience at non-traditional sites such as malls), and remote voting (in which citizens could vote from virtually any Internet terminal, including at home or work). Remote voting holds the greatest promise of convenience and universal access, but it also poses substantial security issues in addition to other risks, according to the report.

"E-voting requires a much greater level of security than e commerce -- it's not like buying a book over the Internet," said University of Maryland president C.D. Mote, Jr., who chaired the committee. "Remote Internet voting technology will not be able to meet this standard for years to come."

Prior to November 7, interest in online elections centered on the potential convenience of voting at home, according to the report, but public interest now tends to focus on reliability. The authors -- a diverse group of political scientists, computer scientists, election officials, industry experts and others -note that the 2000 elections demonstrated the "critical importance of ensuring confidence in the integrity and fairness of election systems." The report makes clear that Internet voting is not a cure-all for problems with currently used voting technology.

With federal, state and local officials considering new technology to overcome shortcomings exposed by the 2000 elections, the report urges them to resist pressures to embrace remote Internet voting systems as the technological cure. "The security problems that could arise might well undermine the legitimacy of the electoral process," said David Cheney of IPI. "We must dispel the myths associated with Internet voting and educate public officials to avoid this scenario."

The committee's main findings about feasibility are:

The report cites three broad areas for further research, which NSF will help fund through its existing Digital Government program:
-end-
Program contacts: Larry Brandt, NSF 703-292-8980/lbrandt@nsf.gov David Cheney, Internet Policy Institute 202-662-2541/dcheney@internetpolicy.org

For more about IPI, see: http://www.internetpolicy.org/

National Science Foundation

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