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In Theory And Practice, Why Internet-Based Voting Is a Bad Idea 218

Posted by timothy
from the but-what-do-these-guys-know? dept.
A few countries, like Estonia, have gone for internet-based voting in national elections in a big way, and many others (like Ireland and Canada) have experimented with it. For Americans, with a presidential election approaching later this year, it's a timely issue: already, some states have come to allow at least certain forms of voting by internet. Proponents say online elections have compelling upsides, chief among them ease of participation. People who might not otherwise vote — in particular military personnel stationed abroad, but many others besides — are more and more reached by internet access. Online voting offers a way to keep the electoral process open to them. With online voting, too, there's no worry about conventional absentee ballots being lost or delayed in the postal system, either before reaching the voter or on the way back to be counted. The downsides, though, are daunting. According to RSA panelists David Jefferson and J. Alex Halderman, in fact, they're overwhelming. Speaking Thursday afternoon, the two laid out their case against e-voting.

(Read more for more, and look for a video interview with Halderman soon).


Jefferson and Halderman have impressive credentials as analysts and critics of internet voting. Jefferson, a computer scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, is chairman of the board of the Verified Voting Foundation, an NGO focused on promoting election integrity, and coauthor of a report that spurred the Department of Defense to withdraw for further consideration its then-plan for online voting, called SERVE, in 2004. Halderman takes a different, hands-on approach, demonstrating (along with his grad students at the University of Michigan) just how polling-station election machines and online voting system can be compromised. "I've probably hacked into and otherwise found vulnerabilities in more polling places than anyone else," he says.

Jefferson and Halderman are careful to define the key element of elections they're trying to expose as unfixably broken: namely, the delivery of completed ballots over the internet, whether that means a web app, email or some other conduit, without a voter-verified paper audit trail. Some kinds of election technology can move from the voting booth to the online world with less risk to the integrity of the election itself — for instance, distribution of blank ballots, or even online voter registration. "This isn't about keeping score of primaries, or gathering information about candidates, but actually voting," said Jefferson. The risk of hacked elections isn't just the possibility of political rivals trying to out-do each other, he said; ultimately, vulnerable election systems compromise national security and ballot secrecy. Even a few hundred votes may suffice to swing a House or Senate race, and that can have cascading consequences for control of elected bodies themselves. "Wherever there's a concentration of votes sufficient to swing a major election, there's a national security concern."

Why assume that election systems can be manipulated? And since paper ballots are not immune to questionable or downright fraudulent counts, why call out the electronic version in particular? In part, he says, because the structure of an electronic voting system is inherently complex, and because it's difficult if not impossible to roll back results if a compromise is suspected. Unlike paper ballots (and in the absence of a paper audit trail backing an electronic voting system), online vote gathering offers no good way to re-count. Jefferson laid out four major and overlapping areas of likely attacks on internet voting systems, any one of which could taint the results of an election.

First, individual voting jurisdictions are vulnerable to attack. (In the U.S., for federal elections, that essentially means counties, totaling more than 7000.) Even in local races, there can be billions of dollars at stake in high-population counties like Cook County or L.A. County. Vendors, both their networks and their source code, are also at risk. Assuming that even best efforts can keep the source code behind the handful of election-system vendors safe is a sucker's bet, Jefferson says. Even large companies with enormous security resources have been hacked, with source code a prime target, as happened to Google and 25 other firms in 2010 in a breach attributed to Chinese operatives. "Who knows if those [online voting software] vendors have already been penetrated? You wouldn't have any idea," said Jefferson.

Even if both local voting authorities and e-voting software vendors were themselves able to deflect all attacks, voters using an online voting system on their home or office PCs would still be at the mercy of the weakest link of the chain — the security of the machines available to them. Targeted malware could be used to present a different set of on-screen options to a voter than it actually sends back to the election counters. Because one of the protections of a secret ballot is to make available to voters proof that they voted but not how they voted, individuals who intended to selected candidate A would have no reason to know their vote was cast for candidate B instead. Malware could also simply vote without user interaction. It may not be election related, but a large fraction of PCs are already infected with some kind of malware, showing how big a problem this could be.

Finally, pure network attacks (or even errors) could disrupt the integrity of an election; exactly that kind of attack brought much of Estonia's online traffic to a halt in May 2007; lucky for Estonians that was not during an election, because Estonia is one of the few countries that has fully adopted online voting. Perhaps more chilling is the brief re-routing in April 2010 of 15 percent of the world's internet traffic through China.

Insecurity on the internet is itself a long-standing problem, so why the fuss? Unlike financial crime, such as credit card fraud, election fraud is hard to detect, and even harder to correct for, in large part because ballot secrecy is key to fair elections.

Voting is different. "Superficially, you'd think the transactions are very similar [to financial transactions], but underneath, all the issues are completely different. The privacy requirements are completely different, for example," says Jefferson. To prevent coerced voting, or simple vote selling, "You're allowed to tell anyone how you voted all you want, but you're not allowed to have proof of how you voted." Rolling back results to investigate suspected breaches is impossible, Jefferson says, without exposing the actual votes of individuals, at the very least to election officials.

Investigating financial crime online is the opposite; there, figuring out exactly who did what and when is the whole point, and the evidence is easy to find: if banking credentials are stolen, he said, "some account will go to zero." But in the case of elections, it's more likely that "the wrong people take office, and life goes on, and it's just never discovered."

And while no election fraud has yet been attributed to it, the trend is growing to institute the version of online voting that Jefferson calls "the worst idea ever" — voting by email. 33 states have modded their voting systems to accept in some cases PDFs of scanned ballots through ordinary e-mail to be entered by election workers. The numbers may be small (typically, this form of voting is limited to overseas voters, and in some cases voters are asked to acknowledge that their vote cannot be kept secret), but this allowance means that "e-mail voting is very widespread in the United States."

While Jefferson works through Verified Voting to influence policy makers to lay out the case against online voting, J. Alex Halderman, in his role as an assistant professor at the University of Michigan, turns theory into reality: he and his students break election systems (devices as well as software) in the U.S. and abroad to show just how easily a malicious attacker could do the same. He offered as an example of several of the ways electronic voting can fail his successful attack on an internet voting plan (see this earlier Slashdot story) that was to have been implemented in 2010 in the District of Columbia. The District had, with Federal grant money, designed an online voting system and already put it nearly into production, and had mailed PINs and voter ID numbers to voters in anticipation.

To D.C.'s credit, Halderman says, the election officials at least asked first for advice from security experts around the country, and invited them to test it in advance of using the system in an actual election, though mere days before the system was to have gone live. "It's not every day you're invited to hack into government computers without the threat of jail hanging over your head," says Halderman, who was attracted to the challenge of investigating the system itself, as well as curiosity about how the D.C. officials would respond to a system compromise.

Though Halderman says the Ruby on Rails-based system was written in "generally clean code," his team discovered a shell injection vulnerability which gave them access to the D.C. system (see his full paper as a PDF for the details), and immediately set about playing.

Web apps tend to be brittle, says Halderman, and D.C.'s was no exception. "App frameworks are written in ways that allow small mistakes to have big consequences," especially when vulnerabilities are often widely disseminated soon after discovery, and not always by white hat hackers like him.

"The first thing we did was steal all the important stuff," he says — credentials, keys, and more. Simply snooping on the data wasn't enough to fully demonstrate the problems in the system, though; the team replaced the information on all of the ballots as well, replacing the actual candidates with ones of their choice, offering up options like Hall 9000, and Bender for school board, and forced client machines to play the University of Michigan's fight song, before erasing the logs that would have allowed their intrusion to be properly analyzed by the system's administrators.

Their attack also led them to gain full access to a terminal server on the same network, and after they'd hacked into this ("using the default password from the owner's manual," Halderman notes) they noticed there was evidence in the logs of other attacks. In particular, some of the attacks appearing to originate in Iran and in China. While Halderman doubts these represent an attack specifically on the DC system voting system, the evidence of such attacks is "an illustration of how vulnerable things are."

Halderman acknowledges that voting in person, especially by electronic means, is far from foolproof, but he joins Jefferson in saying that online voting is categorically worse, and suggests that everyone who takes an interest in security or the mechanics of democratic elections raise the issues of privacy and security. His conclusion and advice for election officials in the U.S.: Voting online is a bad idea, and it simply can't be fixed in the foreseeable future. All the security problems of e-voting machines at polling stations apply directly to internet voting, too, which means that anyone on Earth can attack an online election.

"If my vote is insecure, everyone else who lives under that same government is harmed by that."
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In Theory And Practice, Why Internet-Based Voting Is a Bad Idea

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  • by johanwanderer (1078391) on Friday March 02, 2012 @03:57PM (#39224907)
    It is pretty obvious that electronic voting requires both anonymity (to remove fear of retributions) and accountability (to remove fraud).

    About the only way to do that is to issue each person to have a pass-phrase coupled pair of electronic "vote cards" that is non-identifying. It would require the present of both cards and the pass-phrase to vote. If you lost one card, you can use the other (plus the pass phrase) to invalidate the lost card (and any recently casted votes.) If you lost both cards, you are SOL. No vote for you.

    So, you just can't have a reliable electronic voting system.
    • by sycodon (149926)

      No vote for you.

      You know how far that would get in the courts...injunction city.

    • by sycodon (149926) on Friday March 02, 2012 @04:07PM (#39225089)

      To further comment, I don't think the biggest problem with online voting is going to fraud, it's going to be incompetence.

      Idiots now can't find their precincts, get confused over which box to check, etc. Put them in front of a computer and it's a recipe for lawsuits and protests.

      • by msauve (701917) on Friday March 02, 2012 @04:33PM (#39225465)
        This is the problem with many things voting related. I don't want "voter registration drives," or "easier access."

        If people can't put out the effort to register on their own or get to a voting booth, how likely are they to put out the effort to learn about the candidates and issues, and make an informed choice? Making it easier for idiots to vote is a _bad_ thing.
        • by Dhalka226 (559740) on Friday March 02, 2012 @06:08PM (#39226635)

          If people can't put out the effort to register on their own or get to a voting booth, how likely are they to put out the effort to learn about the candidates and issues, and make an informed choice? Making it easier for idiots to vote is a _bad_ thing.

          I waffle on this issue more than Mitt Romney waffles on, well, every issue ever.

          On the one hand, I understand completely: If the candidates I want to win end up losing, I want to know it was because the other voters made informed choices and disagreed with me. Not because they were hoodwinked, not because they saw what letter was next to the guy's name and knew everything they needed to know, not because they think candidates stand for things they don't actually stand for, not because they think their choice has nice hair or teeth or the right or wrong religion.

          But on the other hand, the "idiots"--and that's an awfully loaded term--are going to be represented by these very same people. That's why they were able to vote differently from me. Don't they deserve the same voice in the process even if they choose to be wholly uninformed and vote party or anti-incumbent or whatever they do? Don't "idiots" need representation as much as I do, quite possibly more?

          Not to mention the fact that while there are plenty of thoroughly uninformed white people, those more likely to be uniformed are going to tend to be minorities who don't have the same access to information as the average Slashdotter does. Yeah, they could go to the library (if they know how to use a computer) -- but look at how many people don't vote because it's not convenient enough. The idea of spending hours at the library before that is going to be a non-starter for even more significant numbers of people. It's also significantly easier for a white-collar worker to find time to vote than a blue-collar worker.

          It's tough. I certainly want informed voters, but does that mean that encouraging uninformed voters to vote is a bad idea? Ehhh...

          • by icebike (68054) *

            "Don't "idiots" need representation as much as I do, quite possibly more?"

            Idiots need to be taken care of, not put in charge.

            I disagree with your racist assessment that:

            Not to mention the fact that while there are plenty of thoroughly uninformed white people, those more likely to be uniformed are going to tend to be minorities who don't have the same access to information

            Minorities often have a better grasp of who they want to vote for, since the issue tends to affect them to a greater extent due to the very fact that they are minorities. Even if they don't read english, you can't assume the don't talk to their friends and discuss the issues, or that they are uninformed.

            There may be many who just don't see the point in voting, haven't got the slightest interest, and could not poss

          • Don't they deserve the same voice in the process even if they choose to be wholly uninformed and vote party or anti-incumbent or whatever they do?

            Those idiots have the right to vote and if they will take the effort to go to the registrar's office and register and then go to the polling place to actually vote on the day of the election, they will be able to do so. However, encouraging them to register to vote every time they interact with government officials and attempting to make it easier for them to cast a vote, even if they can't be bothered to keep track of when the election is, or where the polling station is, does not do anybody any good (exce

    • by Robadob (1800074)
      That solution still wouldn't get around the issue of malware displaying a different form, and then taking what you post and replacing the candidate before actually posting the data.
    • by hjo3 (890059) on Friday March 02, 2012 @04:24PM (#39225323) Homepage

      It is pretty obvious that electronic voting requires both anonymity (to remove fear of retributions) and accountability (to remove fraud).

      If we can do this reliably with bitcoin then there must be a way to implement this, right?

    • It's always been painfully obvious to me why any form of on-line voting is quite simply a non-starter: It can never be any more secure than the client...that is, the users device. In other words, it can never be trusted...period.
    • by lakeland (218447)

      There is a third side to the coin though - Apathy.

      I'm sure there are people who take voting seriously and carefully consider their choices. But they're such a minority that elections are won or list by how well you appeal to people making snap decisions and following prejudice. Presumably internet voting will greatly raise the percentage of the population voting because it significantly lowers the barrier to entry - you don't have to give up a couple hours. Will that increased turnout be people who have

    • Chaum and Shamir have done fascinating work on satisfying both anonymity and integrity.

      Their schemes suffer from usability problems.

      A related problem is that elections have to be seen to be fair as well as being fair. Almost everyone understands paper. A system that depends on PhD level math is something an average voter would have to take on trust, which is a Bad Thing.

    • Giving out a pass-phrase and voter card would allow you to sell your vote (they vote for you). I can't see any way to allow remote voting without vote selling, vote theft, and intimidation. I suggest you present ID at the voting place to receive your paper ballot instead.
  • Punchscan and other E2E methods. I guess too complicated is the drawback.

    Any concerns using machines just to speed up counting of the votes?

    • by Wolfrider (856)

      --If only we had some kind of central computer for voting... Something like... MULTIVAC ?

      / Asimov fan

  • or Russian or Lower Slobbovian or Crown Prince of Liberia seeking assistance in returning 500$million from us banks.

    or a basement dweller scripting 170,456 votes for write-in U. B. Silly for mayor of Podunk, Kansas.

  • by rwv (1636355) on Friday March 02, 2012 @04:00PM (#39224969) Homepage Journal

    You can't have both privacy and accountability over the Internet. You need accountability to ensure that votes are counted correctly and that nobody votes more than once. You need privacy because people have to be able to feel safe voting against individuals or groups who have the means to assert unlawful control over a particular jurisdiction. I can't see how you could ensure both privacy and accountability through purely electronic means.

    Simple example: I could easily commit fraud by submitting a vote for my wife if I knew she hadn't voted yet. Complex example: I could hack the voter database with ten minutes until the polls close... find out everybody who hadn't already voted... and use a botnet to cast their votes a particular way. Slightly less Complex example: I could use a botnet to cast everybody's vote a particular way within the first 17 seconds of the polls opening -- Election Over... Landslide Victory for Kodos!

    • by spudnic (32107) on Friday March 02, 2012 @04:39PM (#39225547)

      Privacy is a huge issue here. Now if you have to go to a voting booth to vote your overbearing SO can't coerce you to vote one way or another. You have plausible deniability. That's kind of hard to do when they're standing behind you watching you vote from the family PC.

    • I can't see how you could ensure both privacy and accountability through purely electronic means.

      There are cryptographic ways of doing this, but they only really work if you can ensure that people keep their own secret tokens secret (e.g. to prevent your counterexamples from working). The biggest problem is ensuring that a machine is not taken over by malware, which could lie to the user about who they are voting for, even if the user keeps their secrets safe from others (something must be entered into the computer).

      The way I see it, Internet voting is only possible if the protocol is implemented

    • Don't overcomplicate it. An attacker could simply DDoS the recording servers in opposition districts. An insider could underprovision them.

  • by Kenja (541830) on Friday March 02, 2012 @04:01PM (#39224987)
    Voting is already easy, just check some boxes on the form the mail you and stick it back in the mail box. If you cant handle that, perhaps you shouldn't be voting?
    • by oodaloop (1229816)
      For starters, it doesn't say annything in TFS about e-voting being easier than mail, just that it offers advantages, like lower time delay and not having items lost in the mail. For military members in places like Guam other remote areas, mail isn't all that easy. Then again, neither is reading the summary, is it?
      • by Sir_Sri (199544) on Friday March 02, 2012 @04:35PM (#39225495)

        For the military in overseas operations in something like guam or airbases it's probably the most easy. Their deployments are scheduled by the government in advance, and they are there by orders of the government who will generally need to be able to speak with them before their deployment and generally during. You may need to make allowances that they need to vote either in advance (potentially days) or you need to accept a delay in the return of their results or a bit of both. Guam is also US territory, meaning there are official US government officials running the show who should be able to organize things. The same could be said of any area with an Embassy, since the election should be handled through the Embassy and consular offices. A flight from Guam to Hawaii is 7 hours. Vote on the island, load plane with ballots, fly to hawaii, or 5 more hours and Los Angles. This doesn't need to be hard.

        The guy who's screwed is an aid worker trying to get red cross supplies into Syria, aid into Somalia, that sort of thing. There's no official government presence where you can show up and connect to them, the deployments are arranged as needed, on short notice in many cases, and they may not have any sort of diplomatic baggage transfer system that you can access, especially without an embassy (think Iran, where even though US operations are going to be run out of someone elses embassy you don't necessarily want to hand the Iranians a list of all Americans in the country by virtue of asking them to vote).

        Now that doesn't mean the US government doesn't make life unnecessarily difficult for voting from Guam or Afghanistan or whatever, but there's no reason it needs to be. If you can get someone ammunition you can get them a ballot. And if you can't get them food or ammunition you generally know well enough in advance that they're being sent out.

        Submarines operating on long deployments submerged are basically screwed. But not Guam. Yes, you have to have some tolerance for early voting, that a person who's going to be deployed to a fire base for the next 2 months might not have a ballot on election day sort of thing. But if the military is running it, it really isn't that hard to handle an election, they may make it seem hard by choosing to be incompetent, which makes a lot of sense on the specific example of Guam of course.

        • by AF_Cheddar_Head (1186601) on Friday March 02, 2012 @06:05PM (#39226601)

          Actually many jurisdictions make it extremely difficult for overseas military to vote with unrealistic deadlines for applying for the absentee ballot then mailing them out 10 days before the election and expecting to get them back by election day. 25 yrs in the service and I've seen many of the hassles that different jurisdictions use.

          Your idea about flying the ballot to LA is a non-starter as the ballots need to get back to my home jurisdiction to be counted. They already fly the mail. The real difficulty is complying with all the deadlines that are different for each state.

          • by Sir_Sri (199544)

            Fly to LA, mail from LA. That's as close to 'in the mail the next day' as you can get.

            Also, your ballot doesn't need to get to your home jurisdiction to be counted. That's making it more difficult than necessary. An approved elections official, or more likely several, needs to certify that votes were cast and counted for a district and forward the result to them to be incorporated into the final tally. Anything else is artificially impeding the success of the system for the sake of being incompetent.

            You

          • Can service members obtain permanent absentee status so that the ballot is mailed to their current military address for each election?

            I registered as permanent absentee when I turned 18 and since then I get every ballot, local or otherwise, in the mail without having to re-apply each time. Of course, my address is permanent and a residence, so I assume postage is much simpler...but is this "permanent absentee" status just a perk of my jurisdiction? (Alameda country, CA.)

    • by cdrguru (88047)

      How about someone with limited vision who lives alone? What, they have to ask the neighbor to vote for them?

      How about someone without the use of their hands? While they could poke a stylus at a screen with their mouth, they can't fill in a scanned box on a paper ballot.

      How about someone that insists their ballot must be in Spanish, French, Urdo or Navajo?

      Sorry paper ballots aren't going to work in the US.

  • by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Friday March 02, 2012 @04:01PM (#39224989)

    Over the last few decades, American states have tried one thing after another to "make voting easier" in an attempt to increase participation (and, usually, to sway elections by increasing the number of voters aligned with one major party or the other). Two of the most significant have been the passage of "motor voter" laws (you can register to vote when you get or renew your driver's license) and "vote by mail". However none of these have really worked. People (like me) who are inclined to vote will do so, whether by mail or by traveling to an assigned polling place. The majority of American voters, though, simply don't seem engaged in the process.

    I'd be all for e-voting with the right technology (secure and economical), but it's just about convenience for me. But I'll vote in any case - I have no illusions it'd increase participation.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Yakasha (42321)

      Over the last few decades, American states have tried one thing after another to "make voting easier" in an attempt to increase participation (and, usually, to sway elections by increasing the number of voters aligned with one major party or the other). Two of the most significant have been the passage of "motor voter" laws (you can register to vote when you get or renew your driver's license) and "vote by mail". However none of these have really worked. People (like me) who are inclined to vote will do so, whether by mail or by traveling to an assigned polling place. The majority of American voters, though, simply don't seem engaged in the process.

      I'd be all for e-voting with the right technology (secure and economical), but it's just about convenience for me. But I'll vote in any case - I have no illusions it'd increase participation.

      Ya, see, the problem is not participation in the actual voting process. Actually voting (absentee especially) involves checking a couple boxes and dropping it in the mail. Not difficult, not time consuming, not costly.

      The problem is getting voters informed. And no matter how easy you make it for them to "raise their hand", they're still not going to take the time to research the candidates or issues. So, like you said, those who are inclined, not just to vote but participate, are going to do so. Those

    • by Lehk228 (705449)
      Have you been asleep the past ten years? The current trend is the opposite, make voting harder, close voting stations. In minority communities, in the name of stopping the nearly nonexistant problem of individual voter fraud creating ID requorements which have a small impact on middle class voters but create complex and expensive barriers to the poor who can't afford the $25 to get an ID from motor vehicles. Notice that every one of these laws excludes use of a foodstamps card as photo ID
  • by TheSpoom (715771) <slashdot@NOSpAM.uberm00.net> on Friday March 02, 2012 @04:03PM (#39225023) Homepage Journal

    1. Identify areas where [opposing party] voters are likely to outnumber [supported party] voters.
    2. DDoS routers / MITM block voting site for those areas.
    3. Power.

    No, I didn't miss a step.

    • by Zeromous (668365) on Friday March 02, 2012 @04:26PM (#39225353) Homepage

      You did, in fact, miss a key step:

      4. Profit.

      That said I believe you have solved the /. riddle. Long after every other nerd that solved it previously went in to politics :)

    • by xkr (786629)
      Yeah, that will work. Except that those actions are highly visible. Criminals don't like getting caught (generally).
    • 1. Voting servers in massively distributed cloud (avoids likelihood of DDOS or particular routers affecting outcome.)
      Perhaps even a peer-to-peer cloud. Of course the actual data would be encrypted, fragmented, fragments re-encrypted,
      and redundantly distributed. With a peer-to-peer cloud storing fragments of ballots at random, ddos'ing affects all ballots from
      everywhere equally.

      2. Election made 1 month long. Try keeping up your DDOS attack undetected all month long.

  • The problem is not with online voting itself, but with the current unsecure implementations. We simply don't have a working online election system yet. As in all fields, progress in cryptography requires time and hard work, but in my opinion with enough determination we can solve all problems in 5 years. Before that, online voting is lunacy. After it has been made secure, I will be all for it.

    • No, the problem (among many, many others, though I think this is the biggest) is that there's no way to provide a secret, anonymous ballot. With online voting, parties could reward those voting for them, or bosses could require that their employees vote for the "company party". Verification of a user's vote is as easy as making them log in and vote in your presence, on your computer. Hell, a company could just require that you hand over your login and vote for you. Outside of physical presence, how do you suggest these problems be worked around?

      • by Hentes (2461350)

        As I have said, not all problems are solved yet, but I haven't seen one that looks impossible. I will detail a system that solves the problems you mention (but has other problems, particularly being vulnerable to an insider. To be honest, the hard part is not just that you have to solve all the problems, but you have to solve all at once). First of all, you are right that physical presence is required, but it's enough to check it once in a lifetime. Before your first voting, you go to the office, ID yoursel

        • by dgatwood (11270)

          As I have said, not all problems are solved yet, but I haven't seen one that looks impossible.

          The problem is not that any single problem is impossible, but that certain problems are fundamentally at odds with one another such that solving certain pairs of problems are either impossible or nearly so.

          Your solution lacks verifiability. Because the server does not verify that your vote was accepted, there is no way to determine whether your vote counted. This makes it a fundamentally unacceptable solution.

          It

      • You have to get beyond a username and password. The first solution that comes to mind is biometrics. For example, when you register to vote, you also have them scan your irises (I think that they are uniquely identifiable). Then, after you vote online, you confirm it. In this case, the person voting might have to have a video (by webcam) of them following a point on the screen. If you have the correct eyes following the correct pattern, then the vote is confirmed. While there might be a way to get aro

  • As noted in the introduction, the easier it is to vote (internet, mail, motor-voter registration, etc.), the more people vote who wouldn't otherwise have voted. This is the best reason there is for not making voting easier, for it is these marginally-motivated people who are the least informed and the most ill-informed.

    • I spent over ten years working the polls on election day. Generally speaking, it's a long, slow, boring job, but somebody has to do it. However, I always hoped for a small turnout, not a large one because that increased the odds that the people voting knew something about the issues.

      You see, the informed voters will turn out for every election because they actually care about the issues. When you have a large turnout, it's because large numbers of ignorant people have been excited by a sound-bite, a sl
    • by Hentes (2461350)

      The point of online voting is not really ease of use (which may not even will be true in a thoroughly secure system), but that it's hell of a lot cheaper. This can reduce costs, allow for much more referendums, and even make direct democracy technically possible.

  • The are no downsides to voting online. There is no one that would try to tamper the online voting without making it obvious it is a fraud. I mean Russia would have an interest to it, but they have better chance of buying off the main parties to actually putting their candidates in power.
  • Personal Computers (Score:4, Interesting)

    by JobyOne (1578377) on Friday March 02, 2012 @04:09PM (#39225147) Homepage Journal

    People's home computers are an awfully weak link in the chain. TFA mentions it, but I think it bears repeating: an embarrassing number of US home computers are infected with some sort of malware. I've read estimates as high as 60% of all computers.

    I won't trust most strange computers enough to log into my Gmail account (even using two-factor authentication), unless they live under the control of either me or a very short list of other people I know and trust to keep a clean system. So obviously there's not a chance in hell I'd trust those malware lockers with the keys to our government.

  • by Joe_Dragon (2206452) on Friday March 02, 2012 @04:13PM (#39225183)

    It's not hackers is the people makeing the voteing systems that are in the best place to fix them.

  • by gurps_npc (621217) on Friday March 02, 2012 @04:20PM (#39225275) Homepage
    1) Given that it is possible to cheat ANY system - paper, online, colored stone (Ancient Greece used that one).

    2.) The problem is not stopping cheating, but detecting it.

    3) Which clearly illustrates the problem with using internet voting.

    The most interesting thing about internet/computer technology is the huge decrease in the number of humans necessary to do work. An executive with good words skills doesn't need a secretary pool.

    Similarly the real problem with the internet/computer based voting is that now a small group of hackers can cause MAJOR election fraud with a far fewer number of conspirators. The traces are much harder to find, or worse, to prove.

    It is not the ease of cheating that is the problem, but instead the difficulty of detecting it.

  • The difficulties of coding a secure voting system are no more difficult than those of coding a secure debit or credit card payment transaction, and subject to EXACTLY the same risks.

    The bigger issue is that every single electronic voting platform I've heard of to date has been a closed-source solution, uninspected, unverified, and unaudited. With a proper open source solution that could be inspected and vetted by the hundreds of thousands of programmers out there who'd be interested in finding flaws, I'

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      You fundamentally misunderstand the issues.

      > The difficulties of coding a secure voting system are no more difficult than those of coding a secure debit or credit card payment transaction, and subject to EXACTLY the same risks.

      No... individual financial transactions can be verified by both parties after the fact (on your transaction record). Individual voting results cannot be verified by either [to prevent coercion, vote-selling, and reprisals]. Instead, aggregate voting results must be verifiable wit

  • by EnergyScholar (801915) on Friday March 02, 2012 @04:31PM (#39225433)

    All practical methods for voting are vulnerable to fraud. Some methods, like paper ballots, provide better resistance to systemic fraud, others provide better resistance to small-scale fraud. Systemic fraud is the greater risk, by a huge margin. Vote by mail is vulnerable to manipulation on a household level, but is very hard to systemically defraud. For example, a household tyrant might steel the vote of other household members and intimidate them into silence, but this same villain would have a hard time stealing the votes of neighboring households. With electronic voting, whomever hires the best hackers can steal the election.

    I've done most of my voting in the US State of Oregon. In Oregon all voting is done by mail. All registered voters receive a ballot with an anonymity envelope. You fill out the ballot, put your ballot in the anonymity envelope, put that in the envelope with your name on it, sign the outer ballot, and send it off in the mail. All the paper ballots are there for future physical counting, and you can check whether your vote was received. There is no election day voting, except to drop your last-minute ballot off at the Post Office before polls close. Voting is done by mail days or weeks in advance. Vote-by-mail is a secure, effective, and practical voting method, and is virtually immune to the sorts of systemic fraud that plague electronic voting.

    I encourage other Slashdot readers to support vote by mail in their locale.

    • by xkr (786629)
      I agree with you, but want to make two comments: (1) mail is still expensive, slow, and far from perfect; (2) the US Postal Service is the largest polluter (gas fumes, junk mail) in the western world. I don't like giving them more stuff to mess up.
    • by 0xABADC0DA (867955) on Friday March 02, 2012 @05:16PM (#39225987)

      Vote-by-mail is a secure, effective, and practical voting method, and is virtually immune to the sorts of systemic fraud that plague electronic voting.

      Wrong. It's vulnerable to systemic fraud in the counting. If you infiltrate the post office or the election office you can easily alter the results in volume.

      When you have a polling location you can verify the box is empty, observe people placing votes into it, and observe the counting. You observe every step in the process to get your poll's final tally, and when the results are posted with a breakdown by polling location you can verify that it was added correctly to the total. All you need is a few trusted people per polling location and you can trust the results.

      But in vote-by-mail the only part you observe is casting your own vote. You can't say that a 'household tyrant' didn't vote for others -or- that systemic fraud didn't occur in the post or in the tally. It's better than internet voting could ever be since the unobservable parts (post office, elections office) are harder to corrupt and get away with it, but it's still unacceptable for running fair elections.

    • by swillden (191260)

      You fill out the ballot, put your ballot in the anonymity envelope, put that in the envelope with your name on it, sign the outer ballot, and send it off in the mail.

      What's the purpose of the signature?

  • by iamnot (849732) on Friday March 02, 2012 @04:32PM (#39225445)
    Well, what they do in Sweden for voting is still old-school paper ballots... in fact, to a former North American it is almost a bit scary as the political parties are allowed to hang around the polling stations handing out polling slips... yes, you use a specific polling slip for the party you want to vote for, and the well-organized and well-funded parties will sometimes send out the voting slips ahead of time! What they also have in Sweden is a national ID system - everyone has an ID number that is used for everything - taxes, healthcare, picking up packages from the post office - everything! And tied to that system are the major bank systems, many of which us a Bank-ID token which you load on your computer to allow online tax submissions, health insurance claims, parental leave (hello 480 days paid leave!), etc. The online part of the ID validation is based on either a single-use scratch bankcard or a keypad that you insert your bankcard into, which you enter a validation code, your PIN, and then it returns a validation code. So, my guess is that switching to e-voting in Sweden would be a breeze, and the security would definitely be strong. Now that I think about it, no idea really why there is no e-voting here yet - heck, you can file your taxes by SMS here!
  • by jaa101 (627731) <James.Ashton@ashtons.id.au> on Friday March 02, 2012 @04:37PM (#39225511)

    In my view an important property of any ballot is that the great majority of people must be able to understand the whole process. That's the only way for people to have confidence that there's a reasonable chance of detecting and preventing rigging. It also rules out pretty well any form of electronic voting. Internet security involves very serious maths that very few people can handle.

    Around here we still write numbers in squares on pieces of paper and drop them in the ballot box. It works. The cost is tiny compared to the cost of government. I just can't see the advantages of more automation being worth the risk.

    People might think it weird that an IT guy would have this luddite view but I think, on the contrary, I'm better placed than most to know what could go wrong.

  • Unlike paper ballots (and in the absence of a paper audit trail backing an electronic voting system), online vote gathering offers no good way to re-count.

    What? Push a button, and the recount is done. You could also distribute the votes to multiple data centers to be independently counted by different software, to reduce the possibility of tampering.

    • Push a button, and the recount is done.

      That's the point; it's not really a "recount" by any meaningful definition of the word.

      • Push a button, and the recount is done.

        That's the point; it's not really a "recount" by any meaningful definition of the word.

        Because.. you don't get a different answer every time?

        • by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) on Friday March 02, 2012 @08:01PM (#39227873) Homepage Journal

          Because.. you don't get a different answer every time?

          Pretty much, yeah. Specifically, if you got a wrong vote count the first time, you will get the same (still wrong) vote count the next time.

          Suppose you go to an ATM to check your account balance, and it says you have a thousand bucks less in your account than your financial records say you should, so you go to the bank and ask them to check your account for any unauthorized transactions. Now suppose the teller just pulls up your account on screen, glances at the account balance, and says, "Looks like the ATM's right." Would you consider that a satisfactory resolution to the problem?

    • You aren't understanding the point of a recount.

      The idea is that you can re-analyze the data (ie: people's votes) more rigorously, so you are 100% sure that the guy elected is the guy most people voted for. That can't happen with electronic data because the data is the count, and no recount will change the result. If, for example, the printer screwed up and put candidate a (call him Stalin), on the line the scanners counted for candidate b (call him Hitler), the recount will prove that, and Stalin will be e

  • In the US it got decided that handicapped people should be able to vote. This meant that 99% of the existing systems in place could no longer be used. How do you have a blind person vote without assistance? How about someone that has lost the use of their arms? Then there are the issues of having to have ballots in the language of the voter's choice. This is the sort of thing that has gotten us where we are today with electronic voting machines.

    I think the "right" answer is to tell the handicapped that

    • How do you have a blind person vote without assistance?

      I don't know how it's done in Arizona, but in California, you're allowed to have somebody help you fill out the ballot if you're unable to do it yourself. If nothing else, one of the precinct workers will assist you. Of course, most blind people probably have permanent absentee ballot status and take care of it on their own, but there's already a way to let them vote at the polls if needed.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by NicBenjamin (2124018)

      In Michigan the way the handicapped vote is simple: they bring a friend they trust who verifies their ballot is right. It's technically not a secret ballot, but so far it's worked fine.

      As for multiple languages, I think you don't understand the law very well. Russians, Poles, Germans, and French people do not have any legal right to demand ballots in their native tongues. Only Native Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanics, and Alaskan Natives do; and they only get them in jurisdictions where they make up a l

  • It's a fine idea until 1337 Polibot wins by a margin of 4 billion votes in a write-in campaign and the referendum on dictatorial powers pases. Then the first act of the administration requires us to do our taxes in binary and funds a "Kill all humans" campaign. What? A glitch you say? We can't change it. It's democracy. It's sacred. Kill all humans.

  • I prefer to vote projects than parties. The political/judicial/exec system is a huge Ponzi scheme, where the taxpayer has to pay and the politicians and friends collect the monies.
  • by xkr (786629)
    I have a lot of background in cryptography and interent security. (This does not mean my opinion is better than yours.)

    I agree that this is a hard problem and that there are many exposed 'weak links.'

    But I don't think it is insolvable.

    If someone were to offer $1 million to the best proposed solution, and a handful of $100,000 runner up prizes, the zillion smart people who read /. and are underemployed would come up with some great solutions.

    There are some tricks that can be borrowed from current elect

    • by xkr (786629)
      One more tool: capture a picture of the voter using the PC's camera. Helps eliminate a guy voting for his wife. (They probably vote the same, anyway.)
    • You will never know if someone made a copy of your vote before it was anonymized, either on the client or server side. You will never know if someone altered your vote in flight, either at the client or server side. Unlike a visible process you have to trust an invisible process. Instead of compromising thousands of voting locations you can mass compromise the system. Any government could trivially disregard all your pretty rules of how it's "supposed to" work and you'd never know it.

      Pretty much all your at

  • Not that I'm particularly eager to put our elections in the hands of the post office, but before we consider an internet voting system, we need a postal voting system. Many states (including New York) do not allow postal voting unless you can prove you can get to your polling place (if you're out of the state/country). There's a good reason for this, and it's been brought up before: it's not a secret ballot. In theory, your employer can force you to fill out your ballot in front of them.

    On the other hand, C
  • I'm not going to attack their credentials, but I don't think they are really trying here. Seems like they have an illogical animosity toward electronic voting.
    Anyone who works at RSA should know that an electronic encrypted link is much more secure than anything involving holes punched in a piece of paper and then counted by people.

    Just look at the re-counts of paper ballots: a different count EVERY time. You're telling me we CAN'T do better?
    Never. Ever. Not possible. REALLY?
    That's just plain pessimis

  • ... major issues like media control by corporations. Voting in the states has gotten so bad because of the likes of news organizations like fox news. As long as corporations control the media voting doesn't mean a lot because most voters are horribly misinformed.

  • by cfalcon (779563) on Friday March 02, 2012 @07:14PM (#39227351)

    There's a running joke with World of Warcraft accounts, where a reasonably sophisticated group of mostly Chinese hackers constantly tries to log in as you. There's been phishing emails (please fill out this survey / you've won a free in-game whatever / your account is in danger of being disabled if you don't confirm you are you), there's phishing whispers in game (player to player direct communication), there's phishing shouts in trade chat (a channel visible to a very large percent of a server at any given time). They post bogus links on forums. Once you follow a link, it's all about exploiting your browser or just fooling you to typing stuff in. You can have an 'authenticator', one of those pseudo-random d00ders that gives you a number, so that stops you from being vulnerable to direct keylogging, unless there is an active agent waiting for that very moment (which has ALSO happened).

    This is for WOW GOLD. Imagine what it will be like if it is for THE FATE OF NATIONS.

    In addition to all the crap listed above, the amount of manipulation a logged in hacker has to do to gain anything out of your WoW account is actually substantial. It is not substantial to have a tiny thing listed that changes your vote from Bob to Alice, while still telling you that you voted for Bob. Whatever you add to work around this is also trivial to get around for your hacker. Do you send a confirmation email? He sends a fake one, after redirecting yours. Whatever you come up with, there's a a way around it, because YOUR CLIENT IS HACKED and THAT WILL HAPPEN. WoW players are at least reasonably nerdy, but in my guild I've seen a masters in EE get hacked (he trusted a binary, don't say you never have), and I've seen a very consistently clever man with get hacked (he doesn't know how exactly, but it's probably when he accessed from a hotel or something). Let me be brief: the dumbest American gets a damned vote, and it is HIS RIGHT that it get cast correctly, and he- or his army of other mouth breathers that access his machine, such as his also dumb wife and kids, will definitely click on whatever rabbit with the pancakes to ensure his machine is thoroughly 0wzzrd months ahead of time, and he'll think he voted for Bob, and he'll cast a vote for Alice, and then democracy breaks even more than it already is.

    If they give you online voting, your vote is literally meaningless.

    And this is before all the voter fraud that gets EASIER but happens already.

    And this isn't the Demopublicans or the Republicrats ensuring their tool gets in office, this could be foreign interests taking over.

    Online voting is the worst thing for Democracy, worse even than a dictator covered in blood with heads on spikes.

    • This is for WOW GOLD. Imagine what it will be like if it is for THE FATE OF NATIONS.

      I'm not sure. It seems there are plenty people more concerned with their WOW gold than the fate of their nation and of nations.

      Unless you mean the nation of naked dancing night elves that is....

  • by Froggie (1154) on Friday March 02, 2012 @08:01PM (#39227867)

    No-one mentions this, and it always annoys me. Aside from the software failings, there's an obvious systematic one caused by internet voting at home.

    Elections should be secret to avoid the sale or compulsion of votes. So you go to a secured place and vote in a booth so that no-one can tell how you voted (and try not to think too hard about those tracking numbers on your slips, but hey). You cannot leave an identifying mark on your ballot - sign a ballot, for instance, and it is invalid and not counted.

    Vote at home, or postally, or by proxy, and secrecy is lost. You can sell your proxy to someone. You can have someone watch you while you vote. This may not matter to you, but hypothetically (and there have been cases of this) if you live in a less-than-free country your employer or your commanding officer might check your ballot to ensure you voted patriotically.

    *This* should be sufficient reason to insist on voting at a controlled location. If you worry about people being simply too idle to vote - or prevented from attending - then you should go the way of Belgium or Australia, where you must turn out and vote on pain of being fined, even if you then choose to spoil your ballot. But you should never neglect the principle of secrecy in the name of expediency.

  • by Opportunist (166417) on Friday March 02, 2012 @08:04PM (#39227897)

    Let's assume we create the perfect, impossible to hack and manipulate voting machine, completely open, auditable and whatnot to address all those issues. Still one thing remains: It requires special skill to audit the process.

    Today, it's fairly easy to debunk someone calling fraud. Here's the paper ballots, count your heart out. Count again and again, it takes a fairly low skill level to do that. You need to be able to identify the intent of the voter (i.e. play "where is the X") and you need to be able to count. Even reading and writing is not a required skill. I'm fairly confident the average 3 year old could accomplish that feat, at least to some degree. And if all he does is make ticks and then compare the amount of ticks made.

    To audit a voting machine, you need a fairly specialized and quite high level of skill. This cannot be done by your average 3 year old, hell, it cannot be done by the average adult. A tiny, insignificant portion of the population is able to do that. You'd have to trust those people if they say that the voting machine isn't cheating.

    But why should you?

    I fear a loss of trust in the democratic process. Even ignoring conspiracy theories where all the security experts are out to bring down humanity by collectively manipulating the machines and keeping it under wraps, it is not possible anymore to eliminate without a doubt any allegations of rigging elections.

  • I would NEVER be in favor of online voting. It's too easy to hack the system, no matter how much security you put in place. Yes, paper ballots can be forged, but, there is a PAPER TRAIL. I do not like the argument that "it allows for greater participation" because it makes it easier to vote. Listen Jack...voting is a precious RIGHT. Get up off your lazy bum a** and vote.

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