Although the Internet and e-mail are pervasive today, it seems unlikely online voting for anything other than American Idol will happen soon, if ever, says Mark A. Gilmore, president and cofounder of Wired Integrations, a San Jose, California-based strategic technology consulting firm.
“I think online voting would create the flexibility to allow more people to vote and would help with the apathy that currently exists amongst the American population,” Gilmore says.
However, Gilmore says the limitations of current technologies raise concerns about how to validate voter identities and ensure system security, two factors he says are just too overwhelming to render online voting a viable option for political elections for the foreseeable future.
“Based on the complex issues that will come with online voting, securing and validating this process will be a daunting task,” Gilmore said.
“California can barely keep up with its current electronic process that is still physically located at the polls; can you even begin to imagine how to control a process that could be completed from anywhere? That is truly going to be a huge hurdle to jump and then try and maintain,” he said.
‘Rife with Problems’
The Verified Voting Foundation, located in Carlsbad, California, has been addressing the use of online technology in public elections for several years. The initiative was started as a way to help those serving in the military overseas exercise their voting rights, according to Pamela Smith, president of the organization.
VVF uses the Internet to help targeted voters register and to get paper ballots to them in enough time that they can be completed and returned before elections, to ensure overseas military personnel can vote.
There is some discussion about extending VVF efforts to aid college students living away from home. But going the next step—to online voting—is rife will all kinds of problems, Smith said.
“The problem is when the technology is used for areas that can’t be secured,” she said.
Though there is no such thing as a perfect voting system—electronic voting and paper ballots have problems of their own—current conventional systems include mechanisms that allow ballot rechecking if necessary. Such a capability when voting via the Internet is limited at best.
In addition, Internet voting could be threatened by denial-of-service attacks or various viruses and other such attacks on the system, Smith notes. “The problems auditing paper records are large enough,” he said.
‘Not Ready for Prime Time’
Although online voting is accepted for television talent competitions, even individuals involved in those ventures question the process.
Mass Innovation Nights, a Lexington, Massachusetts marketing venture, uses social media to increase buzz around products through online polls.
“The voting is often suspect, to say the least,” said Roberta (Bobbie) Carlton, cofounder of Mass Innovation Nights and president of Carlson PR & Marketing. “Running an online vote is harder than you think. The main two ways to [prevent cheating] in online voting are through the placement of cookies and the restriction of a single vote per IP address—neither of which works well,” she said.
“The IP restriction may unfairly prevent one person from voting if someone else on the same network or computer voted first. And so many people know how to remove cookies that this doesn’t make much of a difference in terms of preventing tech-savvy people from voting again and again. Plus, there is no real way of knowing who you are dealing with online—no real digital signature exists.”
Smith added, “The Internet is not ready for prime time when it comes to something as precious as our votes.”
Phil Britt ([email protected])writes from South Holland, Illinois.