Förderverein Informationstechnik und Gesellschaft

IP: Study Warns of Risks in Internet Voting

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Date:          Sat, 14 Aug 1999 22:22:24 -0400
From:          Robert Hettinga <>
Subject:       IP: Study Warns of Risks in Internet Voting

[I'm letting this through because of all the work people have done on
cryptographic voting protocols. As a person who's actually served as a
poll watcher and who understands how voting fraud is conducted and
prevented in the current system, I must say that "Internet Voting"
terrifies me. People involved in these efforts appear to be wholly
ignorant of what the nature of the risks involved are and how the
current system prevents them. However, that is probably better
explained in another message. --Perry]

Clearly, these guys never heard of David Chaum.

OTOH, the alien remark, given Chaum's fans, is quite appropriate. ;-).


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Date: Sat, 14 Aug 1999 13:58:30 -0500
Subject: IP: Study Warns of Risks in Internet Voting

Source:  New York Times

August 14, 1999

Study Warns of Risks in Internet Voting


With the warning that "the polling place is about to be abducted by
aliens," an election watchdog group this week released a study
cautioning policy-makers against blindly backing Internet voting
without carefully assessing the potential for fraud.

The 30-page study by the Voting Integrity
Project, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group that tracks
voter fraud cases, is one of the first signs of the
backlash that will inevitably greet the increasingly
popular concept of Internet-based voting. It was
presented to the American Legislative Exchange
Council, a state legislators' group, which was
assembled in Atlanta.

Deborah Phillips, president of the group,
predicted a fever among state legislators to
embrace the attractive voting technology in
coming years.

"All it would take would be for one of those states to decide to do
this, and there will be a rush," she said.

The Voting Integrity Project was formed in 1996 in response to the
National Voter Rights Act, which allowed voters to mail in voter
registration forms. The group trains poll-watchers and has filed
lawsuits in Oregon, Texas and Tennessee challenging mail-in voting
programs and questioning the legality of voting before Election Day.

Phillips's chief concern about voters casting ballots away from the
polls is that outsiders have more opportunity to coerce votes without
being observed.

"As VIP advocates," she wrote in her report, "the role of the citizen
poll watcher is essential to voting integrity. But now, the polling
place is about to be 'abducted by aliens.' Comic images aside, truly
independent oversight of elections becomes problematic at best when
elections move into cyberspace."

The study presented other troubling scenarios for Internet voting

One of the biggest problems with Internet usage -- system crashes
caused by overload -- could be the greatest enemy of large-scale
elections online, the report said.

"What would be voter response if there is delay or difficulty
accessing their Internet election site?" Phillips wrote in the report.
"Would they try again? Once? Twice? If unsuccessful would they then
venture to their local polling place?"

Other issues raised by the report centered on the problems of system
security and user privacy.

She cited a recent hacking of the Web site for the United States
Senate, which diverted visitors to a parody site. With such diversion
tactics, the report said, "the frightening thing is that voters would
not necessarily be aware their votes were not being legitimately cast.
Once diverted to such a counterfeit site, their voting transaction
could be captured and used to log votes for the thieves' candidates of
choice on the real election site, quite possibly without detection."

  Another concern was the potential use
  of Internet user information collected
  online to manipulate elections. "For
  example," the report said, "if all
  Internet users in a particular voting
  jurisdiction who had frequented
  anti-tax Web sites could be
  electronically prevented from having
  their votes counted in an election on a
  new tax referendum, or diverted to a
bogus election site, which would not count their votes, it could
allow that referendum to pass."

Phillips, former chairwoman of the Republican Party of Arlington
County, Va., drew on a variety of experts to help with the report:
Lorrie Faith Cranor, a research scientist with AT&T Labs; John Seibel,
president of TrueBallot Inc., which makes election systems for unions
and associations, and Hans Von Spakovsky, an election commissioner in
Fulton County, Ga.

Cranor, who has studied both the technical and policy considerations
of Internet voting for AT&T Labs, described a breathless atmosphere
among policy-makers.

"There's a sense of state pride, that 'we could be the first to do
this,'" Cranor said in a phone interview on Friday. "I think states
should not do this just because it would bring glory to their state.
Doing it for glory or just for the sake of doing it is not really what
they should be doing."

A few state legislatures have begun to address Internet voting. Bills
to initiate studies of the concept were introduced this year in the
Minnesota and Washington legislatures. In March, California's
Secretary of State, Bill Jones, convened a task force to study the
issue and make recommendations to the Legislature later this year.
Florida election officials had planned to test online voting systems
this fall, but the project was delayed indefinitely because of voter
fraud in that state.

On the Federal level, the Pentagon is sponsoring a pilot program
through the Federal Voting Assistance Program to allow overseas
residents of five states -- Florida, Missouri, South Carolina, Texas
and Utah -- both military and civilian, to vote via the Internet in

So far in debates of Internet voting, proponents have been the most

Jim Adler, president of, a company that makes Internet
voting systems, stressed that the technology is ready to detect and
deter hacker attacks.

"We don't agree entirely with the report," he said. "But bringing up
the issue with security is important. We believe the bar has to be
held high. We believe the problems are solvable."

Some of those who have been haggling with the issue of Internet voting
welcome the new voice in the debate. Kim Alexander, a member of the
California Internet Voting Task Force, praised the Voting Integrity
Project for raising new issues.

Alexander, who has long been involved in California politics as
president of the nonprofit California Voter Association, started out
on the state task force favoring Internet voting but after discussion,
has come to oppose it. The task force is expected to release its own
report on the issue later this year.

Alexander said she was concerned about the potential for employers to
coerce employees who vote online in the workplace.

"If you think about Internet voting for five minutes, you think, 'Why
not?' " she said. "If you think about it for a couple of hours, you
can think of a lot of reasons why not."

  Copyright 1999 The New York Times Company

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Robert A. Hettinga <mailto:>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <> 44
Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA "... however it may deserve
respect for its usefulness and antiquity, [predicting the end of the
world] has not been found agreeable to experience." -- Edward Gibbon,
'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'