Why You Can’t Just Vote on Your Phone During the Pandemic

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    • #329242
      • Total Posts: 9,978


      For computer scientists who study election software, online-voting programs are a security nightmare. They invite bad actors to slip in undetected and compromise election systems, leaving those systems susceptible to denial-of-service attacks, ransomware, malware, and vote flipping. In 2014, a team of computer scientists at a company in Portland, Oregon, that builds secure systems for the National Security Agency and the Department of Defense showed, in real time, how easy it is to change the contents of a voter’s PDF file as it travels over the Internet. They sent a video of their attack to secretaries of state and other election officials, and posted an explanatory video on YouTube, showing all the weak links in the online transmission of ballots. “This is not just a theoretical danger,” one of the researchers, Joe Kiniry, said at the time. “Votes are silently changed after they leave your computer and before they reach election officials. What’s more, there’s no trace of foul play.” Last month, in anticipation of renewed calls for online voting during the pandemic, the Department of Homeland Security sent a federal risk assessment to state election officials around the country, warning them of the insecurities of Internet voting and concluding that the technology was not advanced enough to be widely disseminated.

      The decision by the D.C. Board of Elections to allow residents to use a system reserved for overseas and disabled voters appeared to have been made the night before the election. Washington was under an emergency lockdown order because of the pandemic, and there was a curfew in place because of the protests. Hundreds of voters had not received their absentee ballots. It was not the first time a crisis spurred election officials to bypass election laws and offer domestic voters the option to cast ballots online: in 2012, New Jersey allowed Internet voting after Hurricane Sandy. The decision was a disaster. According to one report, “hundreds of those who attempted to vote electronically said they were met by busy signals, email error messages or silence, and could not tell if their ballots were counted.” In that election, around fifty thousand voters returned ballots by e-mail or fax, which precipitated an eighteen-month investigation by the Constitutional Rights Clinic at Rutgers Law School. According to the clinic’s report, the eleventh-hour work-around contravened New Jersey election laws and left the results open to manipulation.

      The online primary voters in D.C. were using OmniBallot, a software package developed and licensed by a company called Democracy Live. In February, the King County Conservation District, a natural-resources-assistance agency in Washington State, used the system to allow all registered voters to vote on their smartphones for the board of supervisors. A segment on NPR called it “a historic moment for American democracy.” Bryan Finney, the C.E.O. of Democracy Live, told me that almost all of the jurisdictions that use OmniBallot—over ninety-five per cent—only use it to deliver ballots to voters, who then return printed copies by posted mail. D.C. had been one of these “one-way” jurisdictions. “Electronic ballot return was turned off there,” he said. But when I pointed out that Howard had been directed to return his ballot online, Finney said that doing so was “outside of OmniBallot and out of our purview.” If other jurisdictions are allowing voters to cast completed OmniBallots over e-mail, Democracy Live would not know.

      Five days after the D.C. election, two computer scientists, J. Alex Halderman, at the University of Michigan, and Michael Specter, at M.I.T., released the results of an independent forensic analysis of OmniBallot. Their report can be summed up in three words: it’s not safe. In their estimation, the system is vulnerable to malware and manipulation. Halderman and Specter were especially concerned that, even when a voter returns an OmniBallot by traditional mail, the contents of that ballot, along with the identity of the voter, are recorded by the software. If that information were to be leaked or sold, they wrote, it could be used for targeted political ads, disinformation, or coercion. (When the researchers pointed out that the Democracy Live Web site did not have a policy spelling out the company’s privacy protocols, Finney added one.) In his response to the report, Finney noted that Halderman and Specter’s complaints “relating to the transmission of ballots and the possibility of a compromised device . . . is a universal critique of Web sites in general.”

      Jesus: Hey, Dad? God: Yes, Son? Jesus: Western civilization followed me home. Can I keep it? God: Certainly not! And put it down this minute--you don't know where it's been! Tom Robbins in Another Roadside Attraction

    • #329291
      • Total Posts: 7,254

      Until Trump destroys the Post Office, we can vote by mail.

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