The effort to make voting easier and more accessible is a noble one that should be lauded, but that doesn’t mean it can’t still be screwed up.
It was just yesterday that NPR reported on a plan to allow Washington state King Conservation District voters to cast ballots for an upcoming Feb. 11 local election over the internet — including via smartphone web browsers. Unfortunately, warn experts and officials, the plan isn’t exactly rock solid.
But before we get into the potential problems, it’s worth noting what the web voting in question actually consists of. That’s where King County Elections Director Julie Wise comes in.
“This is electronic access and return of your ballot,” she explained in an emailed statement to Mashable. “There’s no special app, there’s no electronic storage of votes. Instead, a voter’s choice is recorded onto a PDF, which they then verify before submission.”
To do that, eligible voters head to a website, enter their names and birthdays, and proceed. According to NPR, the login credentials are simply a voter’s name and birthday.
Once the vote is submitted via web browser, it’s emailed to the King County Elections office and printed. Next, writes Wise, it goes “through the same ballot processing procedures that we use for our mail-in ballots here in Washington State, including signature verification.”
Still, this doesn’t sit right with Matt Blaze, an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s department of Computer and Information Science.
“This extremely risky decision runs counter to the findings of the authoritative National Academies ‘Securing the Vote’ study, which represents the consensus of experts,” wrote Blaze.
King County WA (Seattle) is planning to allow smartphone voting for local elections. This extremely risky decision runs counter to the findings of the authoritative National Academies “Securing the Vote” study, which represents the consensus of experts.https://www.nap.edu/catalog/25120/securing-the-vote-protecting-american-democracy …
Blaze isn’t the only one side-eying this internet-voting plan. On Wednesday, the Washington secretary of state, Kim Wyman, issued a press release cautioning against online voting.
“Any time you connect a system online, it becomes vulnerable to attack,” wrote the secretary in part. “Cyber experts I have worked with, including the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Washington National Guard, overwhelmingly have identified electronic transmission as too risky for voting and could leave voter information and election infrastructure impaired.”
We reached out to Democracy Live, which NPR writes is “providing the technology” to make all this possible, but unfortunately received no response as of press time.
Importantly, as explained by King County Elections communications officer Halei Watkins over email, that this wonky system is happening at all is partially the result of a Washington-specific quirk.
“In Washington, conservation districts and some drainage districts are not governed under the same election laws as every other jurisdiction,” wrote Watkins. “That means that they are able to run their own elections independent of their county elections department (that’s us!) or they can choose to contract with their county. In this election, King Conservation District has contracted with us to handle the processing and tabulation of returned ballots but that is the only piece that we are handling.”
In other words, don’t expect this new way of voting to come to a county near you any time soon (unless you’re in Washington, that is).
Which, frankly, is probably a good thing.