Sabotaging democracy: The perils of online voting
Ritchie is a former Minnesota secretary of state and serves on the board of the U.S. Vote Foundation. Dzieduszycka-Suinat is the foundation’s president and CEO.
A handful of companies are pushing hard to overturn long-standing, and much needed, prohibitions against online voting. While most voters have no access to online voting, some 25 states currently allow military and overseas voters to vote online. This very limited – and still problematic – access accorded to relatively few voters is being used by online voting advocates as a wedge to pry open access for the broader voting population.
This is a dangerous idea that must be stopped. Despite an onslaught of misinformation that pretends online voting is totally safe, the opposite is true: Internet-based voting is fraught with danger for our already threatened democracy. Green-lighting online voting is a grave threat that needs to be contained before we hand the enemies of democracy another powerful tool with which to accomplish their goals.
The threat is real and ongoing: Online voting proponents have been working hard, and spending hard, on pursuing their vision despite ample evidence that it is fundamentally unsafe. Proponents have even resorted to clandestine tactics: In the run-up to the 2020 election, the U.S. Postal Service secretly pursued an online-voting experiment, without the oversight of Federal agencies that have direct knowledge about how elections work. The project was abandoned after a test of the system showed it to be exceptionally vulnerable to hacking.
Sign up for The Fulcrum newsletter
While a growing chorus of election experts oppose the expansion of online voting, efforts continue by a number of well-funded online voting proponents to promote this dangerous concept. Recently, these proponents have convinced San Francisco’s Elections Commission to consider conducting an online voting pilot. Despite ample evidence that online voting makes hacking an election easy and risk-free, the newly signed https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/4350/text contains provisions for yet another study of online voting.
The consensus against online voting is broad and authoritative, and the risks have been well-documented since our organization published a seminal study in 2013. More recently, the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology advised that voting online was “high-risk even with [risk-management] controls in place.” Online voting, the multi-agency report concluded, “creates significant security risks to the confidentiality of ballot and voter data (e.g., voter privacy and ballot secrecy), integrity of the voted ballot, and availability of the system.”
Voices in Congress have also risen up against online voting. Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden or Oregon, debating the safety of mobile voting last year, called online voting “about the worst thing you can do in terms of election security in America, short of putting American ballot boxes on a Moscow street.”
Endemic low voter turnout is the most commonly used excuse for promoting online voting, and as former and current elections administrators and services providers, we agree that the problem of low turnout needs to be addressed. But rather than focus on a solution that increases the vulnerability of our democracy, we should start by applying reforms and practices that we know can work to enhance turnout for voters here and those serving in the military or living overseas.
Automatic voter registration – for all citizens, including uniformed services members — would have a huge impact on turnout. Automatically mailing ballots to all registered voters, and making it free to return them once a vote has been cast, would also improve turnout. Ballot tracking services and extended deadlines for the return of military and overseas citizens’ ballots, for example, would further help ensure that ballots arrive on time. These practices, moreover, have proved to be cost-effective and relatively simple to implement.
As it stands, our elections systems require a $53 billion infusion to update equipment, registration practices and cybersecurity. Funding these well-known requirements should be our priority, rather than funding yet another vanity pilot project that will showcase an approach that has proved to be dangerously ineffective many times over. Sometimes the simplest solution is the best one. Let’s start there — and avoid opening a Pandora's box before the next election. There’s simply too much on the line to risk threatening our democracy any further.