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In 2011, nearly a quarter (24.3%) of participating voters in Estonia cast their ballot by remote electronic voting (that is, on their computer/phone/tablet via the Internet).

Several larger countries, including the United Kingdom (63M), France (65M), and the United States (312M) have experimented with the idea of Internet voting, but most applications are experimental or limited in scope.

According to the Caltech/MIT voting technology project, Estonia’s success is in part due to:

  • Widespread Internet penetration

  • A legal structure that addresses Internet voting issues

  • An identification system that allows for digital authentication of the voter

  • A political culture supportive of Internet voting

But, referring to United States problems, Ron Rivest, a computer scientist and cryptography expert at MIT, claimed:

We don't have the technology yet to do this in a secure way, and we may not for a decade or more.

What are the facts?

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He probably meant that the technology hasn't been chosen and implemented ("don't have" as in "I'm not holding it right now"), not that the technology doesn't exist ("don't have" as in "we need to invent it first"). Clearly, there are any number of technologies that could be used to vote in a manner that is as secure as absentee voting, we just haven't settled on one and rolled it out (and we're unlikely to; I think his estimate of a decade is very optimistic). – Tacroy Dec 22 '12 at 0:01
@Tacroy: No, Rivest has been vocal against Internet voting for security/trust reasons. For example See entry 281, Thoughts On Appropriate Technologies for Voting, in his bibliography on this home page for slides/video/etc. – Oddthinking Dec 22 '12 at 0:08
Thank you for the suggestion @Odd, but it is already difficult to find the courage to ask questions and to express what I really want, imagine to clarify the reasons. However, I try communicating with others as clearly as I can to avoid misunderstandings. Neverthless, surely I have to work on this matter, as well. – Carlo Alterego Dec 22 '12 at 0:34
We haven't even implemented secure paper voting. – Muhd Dec 22 '12 at 0:48
I don’t understand this discussion / question at all to be honest: internet voting isn’t a question of technology of security. It’s simply that internet voting could never be guaranteed to be a secret vote, and as a consequence it wouldn’t be a legitimate democratic vote. This doesn’t change even once all security aspects are solved. Period. – Konrad Rudolph Dec 22 '12 at 13:45

3 Answers 3

The cited Caltech/MIT paper explains at least one impediment to Internet voting in the USA:

A third lesson regards voter authentication, which is the subject of debate in many nations, including the United States. In Estonia, the introduction and dissemination of their digital national identification card has opened the door for many uses of that identification, uses that pre-date the implementation of Internet voting in Estonia. In other words, having a strong form of online voter authentication may be a critical step for implementation of secure Internet voting that has the trust of voters and other stakeholders in a particular nation’s election process.
But it is unlikely that a strong form of voter authentication like that used in Estonia will be developed only for Internet voting; rather, it is likely that governments will develop and implement these forms of strong digital identification to enable citizens to interact with government in other ways: paying fines, fees and taxes; checking out library books; or researching property transactions.

It is a reasonable for Rivest to give a loose estimate of at least a decade for a robust national identification scheme to be introduced into the United States, especially given the political pushback it is likely to cause (for example: Australia Card was a similar proposal.)

I do not believe this is the only limitation against secure Internet voting, but it suffices for this answer.

(Rivest includes other reasons in, for example, his slides Thoughts On Appropriate Technologies for Voting, including that Internet voting isn't trust-worthy enough to convince losers they really lost, they can't guarantee secret ballots, they can't prove a chain of custody, real software is likely to contain security flaws, they are at risk of insider attacks, etc.)

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Whether voting via the Internet could be made "secure" depends upon what is meant by the term. Historically, a key aspect of the secret ballot is that it should not only be impossible for someone to determine how an individual voted without that person's consent, but it should even be impossible to coerce or entice a person into proving how he or she voted. Obviously nothing can prevent a person from saying how he or she voted, but a person could claim to have voted for candidate who received at least one vote, regardless of how the person actually voted. Voting schemes which do not require people to cast votes under supervised conditions cannot very well meet the latter condition; if such supervision is regarded as security requirement, then such schemes cannot be considered "secure".

Further, even if the aforementioned requirement is not considered absolute, a fundamental difference between voting and banking is that a bank is supposed to know exactly who is doing what; by contrast, election officials are supposed to have no way of knowing or finding out who voted for whom. Thus, the sorts of reconciliation that are possible with on-line banking aren't possible with on-line voting. If thieves steal a person's credit card number, it's possible to determine which transactions were performed by the thief and reverse them. By contrast, if a voter's ID gets stolen and is used by someone else to cast a fraudulent ballot, the only way to reverse the fraudulent vote would be for election officials be able to determine for whom they were cast, which would clearly be contrary to any definition of "secret ballot".

Finally, Internet voting shares a problem with by-mail voting schemes, which is that there is no mechanism for ensuring that any particular human being only has a single identity. If George Jetson registers his dog Astro and receives mail addressed to Astro, then when voting by mail or via Internet he would have no problem casting one vote for him and one "for Astro". If Mr. Jetson were required to physically show up at the polls and show ID to vote, however, he would have to produce an ID showing that he was Astro Jetson if he wanted to vote on Astro's behalf. Even if he didn't have to show ID, the requirement that he physically visit the polling place twice in order to vote twice would at least raise the possibility of his repeat-voting being noticed by an attentive poll watcher. Internet voting, like mail voting, would remove that safety check.

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Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

Welcome to Skeptics! Please provide some references to support your claims. – Oddthinking Sep 29 '14 at 0:28
What Oddthinking said. :) – Larian LeQuella Sep 29 '14 at 2:33
@LarianLeQuella: Do you have any in particular that you disagree with? – supercat Sep 29 '14 at 2:34
@supercat: It isn't whether Larian disagrees. It is whether we can check whether what you are saying is true. "Historically, a key aspect of the secret ballot..." Says who? "a bank is supposed to know exactly who is doing what" Says who? "it's possible to determine which transactions were performed by the thief and reverse them" Says who? etc. – Oddthinking Sep 29 '14 at 7:13
@Oddthinking: I'll find a reference for the first point; I would have thought at least the latter two would be self-evident. I don't think many bank customers would be very happy if their statement simply said "$451 was taken from your account" and the bank couldn't either say to whom it was paid or supply a copy of the check authorizing the payment (which would indicate the payee), and I would think the fact that fraudulent or erroneous payments sometimes get reversed was well-known and non-controversial. – supercat Sep 29 '14 at 15:16

Non airgapped computers are insecure. Stuxnet has shown that even airgapped computers can effectively be attacked.

Computer that citizens use to vote in online elections like Estonian's election aren't airgapped because they have to connect to the internet to vote.

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Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

Basically-- electronic voting is just not secure. I'd think that Ron Rivest's explanations on the subject should be sufficient, or Bruce Schneier's. – mmr Dec 22 '12 at 19:23
This answer is based on less reputable sources than the claim. You can do better than that. :-/ – Sklivvz Dec 22 '12 at 20:30

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