Read Time: 3 - 5 minutes
The primary argument against online elections is the risk of voter fraud. This is the same argument that is levied against other new voting laws or practices while also justifying the implementation of new rules. Many voter fraud arguments are anecdotal or unsubstantiated, but they definitely make headlines.
Conducting an election online does create problems that may open the whole electorate up to fraud instead of the current risk of criminals impersonating individual voters. A group of hackers could theoretically assume the role of old-Chicago ballot stuffers who push an election toward a particular candidate. Regardless of where the election data is stored it could be susceptible to influence from a group of online hackers. These individuals could connect to servers through the Internet and change the outcome of an election. Setting up multiple obstacles online, in the distribution of access information to voters, and in storage of data would minimize the ability of any hacker group to influence an election.
The first step toward voter security and ballot authenticity is encryption of ballot data. In real world terms, this sends the ballot to a unique box that is unable to be opened until a series of codes have been inputted once the election is complete. An upside to this is the ability of third parties to independently audit the system for security leaks while preserving the validity of the vote. A valid vote would be one that is identical both in the online data and in the results of a third-party audit. This is not the case with electronic voting machines that are used in physical polling places. Those machines create a “black box” that can be misplaced or influenced by an unknowing or knowing third party. Although these systems are thought of as secure, they do not provide the opportunity for individuals to evaluate this claim, nor are the difficult to infiltrate. These systems are also difficult to use because they are not accessible on a PC that the voter is using on a regular basis.
Requiring multiple unique codes to access the ballot file does make it extraordinarily difficult for any hackers to change a vote. Changing multiple votes or stuffing the electronic ballot box with fraudulent ballots is immediately identifiable by computer. Each voter using an online poll not only is required to use a unique ID code, but the IP address, unique to their computer, is recorded. This creates a system where multiple codes being inputted from the same computer or computers geographically near one another is detected. Prior to conducting the election, the unique voter ID codes and their locations are recorded. If they are used outside their pre-determined area, the computer detects a problem that can be investigated by election officials. If one computer is used to cast more ballots than there are registered voters at the location it would also trigger the system as potential fraudulent activity. ID codes, by being linked to a unique voter, in a unique location, during a specific time, would be a mechanism to make the threat of online hackers or people illegally changing the outcome of an election similar to that of individuals posing as fictitious people trying to sway an election.
The last hurdle to access electronic ballots by election coordinators is requiring multiple physical keys to start the counting and for the ballots to be electronically unlocked. Generally these keys are inaccessible by election officials and can be given to judges outside the voting district. When the polls close, the judges show up to a server and physically turn a key at the same time to count the votes.