Skeptics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for scientific skepticism. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

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?

share|improve this question
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
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
@Carlo_R.: for instance someone could point out that in certain "democracies" paper ballots can be burned at will, if the votes are not "the right ones". – nico Dec 22 '12 at 19:35
Two facts: 1) in US even requiring and photo ID (of any kind) is considered "restriction of voting rights", because there is significant number of people who do not have them. 2) 9 states don't even issue IDs with any kind of machine readable data on them. And in the rest people cannot be required to change them before they expire (typically 10 years) – vartec May 9 at 18:57

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.)

share|improve this answer


  1. Experts warn against the usage of internet voting in USA unless the vote data is transmitted in a safe, secure and verifiable process over the internet.

In 2008, 32 respected computer scientists from universities across the country, including Stanford University, Princeton University, John Hopkins University, Carnegie Mellon University, Indiana University, Rice University, Purdue University, and the University of Texas at Austin, issued a statement about the vulnerabilities of Internet voting, listing the technical challenges to implementing a safe and secure system. These scientists warned that there are “serious, potentially insurmountable, technical challenges” to transmitting votes over the Internet in a secure and verifiable manner. They recommended that Internet voting not be adopted until and unless “these technical challenges have been overcome.” Source: The Dangers of Internet Voting

  1. Regarding Estonia's internet voting system’s vulnerabilities, experts have warned that there were major security risks and recommended its immediate termination.

Their research showed that the system’s numerous security lapses created an “attractive target for state-level attackers, such as Russia.” These attackers, as well as dishonest election officials, “could change votes, compromise a secret ballot, disrupt voting, or cast doubt on the legitimacy of the election process.” The system had such “serious procedural and architectural weaknesses” that “attackers could undetectably alter the outcome of an election,” a shocking finding that the National Election Committee of Estonia refused to acknowledge. Unfortunately, Estonia continues to use this unsecure, dangerous Internet voting system. Source: The Dangers of Internet Voting

However, Estonia continues to use this unsecure system of Internet voting and vouches by it.

“In the past decade, our online balloting has stood up to numerous reviews and security tests. We believe that online balloting allows us to achieve a level of security greater than what is possible with paper ballots,” a statement from Estonian National Electoral Committee said. “The system has been used in six elections (municipal, national and European) without a single incident which has influenced the outcome. During the municipal elections of October 2013, 21.2% of voters used online balloting, 24.3% in 2011 Parliamentary elections. Online voting is particularly useful for the thousands of Estonians who live, work and travel across the world, enabling them to exercise their civic duty from any corner of the world. In the previous two elections, votes have been cast from 105 countries.” Source: No e-voting for Latvia any time soon

  1. Countries such as Netherlands and U.K. who had previously experimented with Internet voting have subsequently dropped the option.

but Internet voting has been used in several other countries, including Estonia and Switzerland, neither of which protects against malware on voters' computers, and Norway in 2011. The Netherlands provided an Internet voting option in its 2006 parliamentary elections, but Internet voting was subsequently banned, largely because of work by a group called "We Don't Trust Voting Computers." The U.K. tried Internet voting on a pilot basis in 2007, but the U.K. Electoral Commission recommended against further e-voting pilot projects until a range of issues had been addressed. Source: Internet Voting in the U.S.

  1. Currently many states in the USA allow certain voters to submit their absentee ballots electronically either through a web portal, fax or email.

While the idea of conducting elections entirely via the Internet is not something states are considering now or in the near future, many states are allowing certain voters to submit their absentee ballots electronically. Sending voted ballots electronically (via fax, email or web portal) is most often reserved for voters who fall under the federal Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA). UOCAVA voters often face unique challenges in obtaining and returning absentee ballots within state deadlines. Source:ELECTRONIC TRANSMISSION OF BALLOTS

TL;DR: Yes currently United States and several other developed democracies around the world do not have an end-to-end verifiable Internet voting system which is transparent, useable and secure. This is still a work in progress because there is no single existing system guaranteeing voter privacy or the correct election outcomes referring to a report called as 'The Future of Voting' commissioned by the U.S. Vote Foundation based on inputs from election officials in 10 US states, university computer science and e-voting researchers, cryptographers and technologists from IBM, Microsoft, the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology and other organizations.

Internet voting on a U.S. nationwide level will take longer, with issues such as large-scale security, cost and access to computers for low-income voters still needing to be resolved, he said. "To build and deploy a system used in federal elections in America that security professionals would trust? That's a longer time frame," he said. Source: Internet voting isn't ready yet, but it can be made more secure

share|improve this answer
/facepalm. Do they look for Russia under their bed every day they go to sleep? – Oleg V. Volkov May 16 at 13:12

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.