HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns

November 6, 2006, Herald Journal

Why not vote over the Internet?

By MARK OLLIG

No doubt my answer may surprise you, but the subject of using your home computer, or even your work computer connected to the Internet for casting your votes has been talked about for the last 15 years.

It seems like it would be much easier and simpler to be able to visit the official United States Voters Website, (which does not exist…yet) and enter your personal voter’s pass code that was issued to you on your last IRS returns. Then a new screen pops up which would display the elections that you are eligible to vote in. You are allowed to vote once – you would not be able to vote early and often.

The state of California set up a task force that presented a very detailed report in January 2000 on voting via the Internet called:

“A Report on the Feasibility of Internet Voting.” You can view this report at: http://www.ss.ca.gov/executive/ivote/final_report.htm#final-3

The report defines Internet Voting System as “an election system that uses electronic ballots that would allow voters to transmit their voted ballot to election officials over the Internet.” The task force defines Remote Internet Voting as a “means the unsupervised use of an Internet Voting Machine to cast a ballot over the Internet using a computer not necessarily owned and operated by election personnel.”

The importance of designing any Internet voting system would need to be just as secure against fraud as the current voting ballots are today, in every respect. Being able to guarantee authentication would be paramount.

I discovered that Travis Texas uses a ballot casting method called “eSlate,” which is an electronic voting system. The voter uses a handheld computer about the size of a legal pad to cast their votes. These handhelds are used at the polling places, or they can be used at the “portable voting booths.” The results are tabulated and reported very quickly using the Internet network.

This is their website: http://www.hartis.com/. Just click the top left election icon for more information and a demonstration.

This website: http://www.electiontech.org/. On July 19, 2006 the Election Technology Council (ETC) Chairman John Groh testified on behalf of ETC at a Joint Hearing of the House Administration and House Science Committee on “Voting Machines: Will the New Standards and Guidelines Help Prevent Future Problems?” You can view this presentation at http:///www.house.gov/science/hearings/full06/July%2019/index.htm.

I saw the movie “Man of the Year” which starred Robin Williams as Tom Dobbs, who starts a grassroots political movement and gets himself on the Presidential ballot. Unbeknownst to the general public, he ends up winning the election because of a “computing voter error” which was actually a computer “glitch” or fault in the voting software. Now, I do not want to give away the movie altogether – but it does provide us with something to think about.

This was only a movie, but it gives us reason to understand that without verifiable safe guards and controls, the public would have accepted the outcome. Even if there was a way to have a secured voting system over the Internet (which some claim there is) I would believe that there would still be the possibility for deception.

No system I suppose is 100 percent reliable.

Yes, I do remember Bush versus Gore and that Supreme Court case heard on December 11, 2000 which determined the outcome of the 2000 Presidential election.

That is why I said no system is 100 percent reliable.

I think I am treading on some sensitive political ground here, so I will get back (quickly) to the column topic.

What if you do not own a computer? I imagine there would be public Internet voting terminals available in schools, libraries and probably your favorite grocery store. Why stop there? Put them in the restaurants too, quick stop convenience shops or your car. I am not sure if having a voting place located where you drink your alcoholic beverages would be proper (or legal). It seems I am digressing here.

Would more of us, if we could do our voting sitting down in a comfortable chair typing away at a computer keyboard, instead of visiting the local public voting place, feel the same fulfillment and satisfaction as we exercise our right and fulfill our civic responsibilities?

Since the 1960s, we have in some areas, been voting via computer technology or voting machines that used punch-cards – although primitive. This was the medium used to calculate the results (by computer) of the votes that were cast.

But there is something to be said for those of us that take the time to physically make the trip to go to the public voting place to cast our votes by paper ballots. (I do understand that for some it is necessary to vote via an absentee ballot).

When we arrive at the polling place, there seems to be a certain decorum, respectability and even a feel of formality in the air.

There is that confident satisfaction one has after we place our paper ballots in the box and get that “I voted” sticker, which we put proudly on ourselves for all the world to see.

We exercised our right to vote. We made the journey (or we voted absentee) and we have the satisfaction of knowing no matter what the outcome, we expressed our personal choices in person at the voting booth for the candidates that most closely shared our same views and political beliefs. We were a part of the electoral process.

It is the personal experience of being around your fellow citizens, exercising this exclusive right to have the opportunity to freely cast our vote to choose who will represent us – this right that so many fought and died for us to have.

I currently do not support voting for officials via a computer located anywhere that has a connection to the Internet. Do I trust in all of the elements for credible and honest election result tabulations that must be guaranteed via the use of a software program being used over the Internet? We know the possibility that others with a vested interest in the results would somehow have the means or the technical wherewithal to manipulate them.

It is bad enough when we read about votes being tabulated from voters who are not even alive, using old social security numbers, addresses and other fraudulent means – if those computer hackers out there have fun changing the content of websites like Microsoft, I think they would have just as much fun changing the outcome of my votes.

Some will say I am not being realistic, it is after all the 21st century.

I am not ready or comfortable with the idea of important political voting to be taking place over the Internet…at least just not yet.

If you are still not sure which polling place you can vote at, visit http://pollfinder.sos.state.mn.us/ This is the official poll finder of the state of Minnesota. At this website, just put in your zip code and it will then cross-reference this to a list of streets, put in your house number for the street you live on and the correct polling place is presented to you.

See you at the voting polls on Tuesday.