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NY Times Editorial: A Bad Experiment in Voting PDF  | Print |  Email
By New York Times   
September 05, 2008
This editorial was published in the New York Times on September 5, 2008.

The words “Florida” and “Internet voting,” taken together, should send a chill down everyone’s spine. Nevertheless, Florida’s Okaloosa County is seeking permission from the state to allow members of the military to vote over the Internet in November.

Internet voting is fraught with problems, including the possibility that a hacker could break in and alter the results. The Okaloosa plan, in particular, has not been sufficiently vetted.

It is laudable that the county, home to a large number of active-duty military, wants to take aggressive steps to help military voters cast ballots. The plan would set up Internet voting kiosks near American military bases in Germany, Japan and Britain. The votes would be sent to the United States over secure lines similar to ones used for bank transactions.

The problem is that too little is known about precisely how the system would work. For Internet voting to be trustworthy, it must be clear that there is no way for a hacker to break in and voters must have complete confidence in the software being used. Okaloosa has not persuasively made that case.

The county has asked a group of academics to review the reliability of its system, but their report has not yet been made public — and may not be until after the election.

Any Internet voting system should be vetted in the most public way possible, with the nation’s computer experts invited to examine how it works.

In 2004, a group of academics reviewed an Internet voting system that the Pentagon was considering. The system was scrapped after the group identified numerous security flaws. There was a very real possibility, the professors warned, that the system could be used to steal votes. The Okaloosa system does not have all of the weakness of the Pentagon system — which would have allowed people to vote from their home PCs — but it has some of them.

The issue here goes beyond a single county. If the Okaloosa experiment goes forward, other counties around the country may decide to implement their own programs, with just as little public scrutiny and debate. Florida’s
secretary of state should deny Oskaloosa’s request, and Congress should ban Internet voting in federal elections until a reliable and fully tested system is developed.

All Americans have a stake in ensuring that presidential ballots are cast using reliable voting systems.
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