Why Can’t We Vote Online?

Our discussion with Professor Eaves this week left me with many questions about the intersection of government and internet. Rather than blogging about some of the things we discussed in depth (although I do have a lot to say on those topics…get ready for Monday), I thought I’d write about something that I’ve always wondered about: why can’t we vote online?

Take a moment to evaluate your intuitive response; why do you think we can’t vote online? I mean, we can bank online, right? I can make transactions for nearly any amount of money without changing out of my pajamas, yet an archaic system is in place for our political voting that, every year, is corrupted by human error.

First, let’s discuss the potential positives of online voting: it would be far more convenient, maybe incentivizing more than half of the population to vote. It would make for far easier absentee votes, and it would greatly increase the speed with which votes could be gathered / accounted for. Online voting would allow people who are normally unable to vote due to work, school, etc to vote. Voting would be more private for those who are uncomfortable in public places (or hospitalized, etc), especially somewhere as official as a polling spot. Sounds pretty great, right? (SOURCE)

Now for the cons. The first thing to note when examining the cons of online voting is that it simply is not comparable to ecommerce, or online banking. Verified Voting very loosely summarizes the differences nicely when they say:

1. It is not actually “safe” to conduct ecommerce transactions online. It is in fact very risky, and more so every day. Essentially all those risks apply equally to online voting transactions.

2. The technical security, privacy, and transparency requirements for voting are structurally different from, and actually much more stringent than, those for ecommerce transactions. Even if ecommerce transactions were safe, the security technology underpinning them would not suffice for voting. In particular, the voting security and privacy requirements are unique and in tension in a way that has no analog in the ecommerce world.

So, one of the first and biggest roadblocks is that, legally, there are different requirements for security in voting and commerce. Okay, sure, but what if we changed the law? Well, there are structural differences as well — allowing online voting opens a whole new can of worms. Imagine having a ‘botnet’ of internet users who don’t vote; you’ve hacked into their accounts, and you vote for them every year. They have no idea since they don’t really care. Can we inform people of who they voted for by mail, maybe? Well, what if my botnet was of completely oblivious people; say I targeted only the very elderly or incapacitated. One person could amass the voting power of hundreds, thousands, who knows.

Another issue lies in the actual physical process of voting. No one sees what you do in a poll booth; but if I can vote online, I can be held at gunpoint and forced to vote for a specific candidate while an attacker watches. With physical voting, no one can confirm your vote, and therefore intimidation is difficult. There are many, many more cons to online voting that you can read here.

So, what are your thoughts? Do the pros outweigh the cons? Probably not, but — in what ideal scenario might the pros outweigh the cons? What alternate universe? Or, perhaps, what change in the law / our society / cybersecurity would allow for this to happen? Thanks, see you all Monday.

1 Comment »

  1. Mike Smith

    October 28, 2017 @ 7:11 pm


    You are definitely ready for this week’s upcoming discussion! I’ll keep my comments for then too.

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