[Image courtesy of QualityPoint]
Last week, the Overseas Vote Foundation announced the launch of a new project aimed at taking a research-based approach to the question of whether or not absentee ballots can be securely cast over the Internet. Thanks to generous funding from the Democracy Fund, the project will be an opportunity to answer key questions about the feasibility of meeting growing calls for remote online voting. OVF’s press release has more details:
The project is called End-to-End Verifiable Internet Voting: Specification and Feasibility Assessment Study (E2E VIV Project) and will examine a form of remote voting that enables a so-called “end-to-end verifiability” (E2E) property. A unique team of experts in computer science, usability, and auditing together with a selection of local election officials from key counties around the U.S. will assemble for this study.
Their efforts aim to produce a system specification and set of testing scenarios, which if they meet the requirements for security, auditability, and usability, will then be placed in the public domain. At the same time, they intend to demonstrate that confidence in a voting system is built on a willingness to verify its security through testing and transparency.
“The secure, tested, certified remote voting systems that election officials envision aren’t even for sale. Available online ballot return systems are not considered secure by the scientific community, nor are they certified. As a result, email has become the default stopgap method for moving ballots online. Email is especially weak on security, yet it is being used regularly by election officials because viable alternatives are not available,” says Susan Dzieduszycka-Suinat, President and CEO of Overseas Vote Foundation, who spearheaded this project.
Most significantly, the project enlists the aid of local election officials – as well as key experts in security, auditability and usability – to identify the best ways to proceed on a suitable remote voting solution:
While [Internet voting] systems … have been developed in the past, none have been broadly used or successfully commercialized, This study will be informed by these past efforts and build upon them as appropriate. Usability factors will also be considered from the outset of the study to address the significant challenges faced by remote and disabled voters when using such systems to participate. A viable outcome of this study with respect to security, auditability, and usability will enable development efforts to ensue.
Technological challenges aside, the project also aims to revive a cooperative dialogue between computer scientists and many election officials following recent fights about Internet voting:
“There is a historical misunderstanding in the U.S. election community that this project aims to correct. Our country’s best scientists are not against technology advancements, nor are they inherently at odds with the election officials who seek technology improvements to meet their administrative challenges. What the U.S. scientific community takes issue with are the unproven claims of security regarding existing systems that are not publicly tested or vetted. This study aims to recalibrate this situation. This group of scientific leaders has often pointed out security vulnerabilities in past systems, however they do agree on one thing: that if [Internet voting] does happen, it should be in a system that takes advantage of end-to-end verifiability and auditability,” said Ms. Dzieduszycka-Suinat.
This is a very promising effort – and the investment by the Democracy Fund provides not only financial support but a signal of the importance of this project to the future of elections. Congratulations to OVF and the entire project team!