The discussion about a digitized polling system has election officials and experts throughout the nation stepping up to avoid a potentially crippling move for the American electoral system, said Secretary of State-elect Michael Adams.
"I think concerns, especially surrounding hacking, are well-founded right now," he said. "People want to confirm that their vote can't be hacked and that the machine tallies the votes offline and that they are collected and processed, offline. The most secure elections are cast in person because there are checks and balances requiring some sort of identification and oversight. When you see fraud, and we have it, it most often happens outside of the purview of election officials.
"An online method system out west may work where there is less history of election fraud, but not in places like Kentucky where fraud is still endemic. Internet voting in Kentucky is not anywhere near ready for primetime."
In 2000, the state of Washington participated in a nonbinding trial that allowed its citizens to cast their votes online or go to a polling place, said Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman, and she walked away observing two almost insurmountable obstacles; tracking and perception, she said.
"At a fundamental level, the internet was never built to be a secure avenue for data. Meaning, things can be easily lost. If there is a point with your ballot in a fully digitized system and say, your name is separated from the ballot, the ballot is corrupted and there are no checks to make it whole. With paper, there is a trail so that we can perform checks. The second revolves around perception. Where you are on the spectrum of trusting technology will bleed into your ability to trust the results."
For Wyman, the standard system that creates a paper trail is really the only way to go to make the process as transparent as possible, a belief held at the local level as well, said Richard House, Daviess County Clerk's Office chief deputy.
"Right now, to be honest, it is hard to make people believe that our machines that are paper can't be hacked," he said. "We have people that are always concerned, even though there is no connectivity. You get into phones and computer voting, I don't know how you could prevent that. I don't know how we could ever secure online voting. I don't know how that could be protected. It could attract more, but they will still have to take the time to vote and they will have to do that. The big thing for us will be security."
The major "philosophy" behind online voting is the notion that it could, if the process were made more convenient, raise voter turnout, which is a fallacy, Wyman said.
"Same day voting, vote by mail, automatic registration as well as future programs, all of the things that can be considered barriers, we (Washington) have removed," she said. "And have done a fine job of balancing those practices with compensating controls. We have been talking about turnout and decline and rates the entire time and what I have found to be true is that turnout is more tied to what is on the ballot than the efforts made by governmental entities. People will turn out more for a high profile race, like the presidential, and less for those local elections like school board, city or county that actually affect their everyday lives. Our job is to convince every politico that the results reflect the way people voted, it was fair, accessible and secure and that is why I think an online system is hard to defend. I am all for paper. It is slow. The media doesn't like it, but it is defensible."
Jacob Mulliken, 270-228-2837, firstname.lastname@example.org