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Online Voting Rights for Overseas Military Personal

Having been deployed during an election I have some very passionate views on this issue. I have seen my friends simple ignore the absentee ballots they've received because there is no point for them. By the time their casted vote would arrive in the country the election would already be over and decide. This often times leads to even more apathy than the average American would feel regarding their 'vote not mattering".

This is not to say that our American soldiers are not civic minded and have no desire to participate. People serving on the frontline often times develop a great understanding of how policies out of Washington would effect their lives on a continually basis. Its these same policies that had requested they leave their family and friends for a time and serve their country elsewhere. They want to participate, but often times can't even get a letter home in less than a month, let alone a ballot.

Now I have heard the argument there is no way to secure anything on the internet. Yet if that were true shouldn't the US military stop sending Operations Orders and other important classified information via online means? Shouldn't the commanders at CENTCOM mail their orders to generals on the battlefield and hope they arrive in time to be valid? In the scope of things, we could secure a ballot along these other important documents just as well. One example I came up with just  off the top of my head was having a distinct code on the absentee ballot; ballots that could be secured among Security documents, one would then enter this specific code while casting their online vote and then mail in the corresponding form. This would allow for the immediate vote to be cast, but allow a paper trail to soon follow.

At the very least Online Voting for soldiers is something we should look into. It is a community building event that would enable soldiers  to feel like they not only have a say, but they are still an active part of our country's politics. Besides if we are talking the need to secure something, what other agency could we trust more than the United States Military consider its part of their job?

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I am all in favor of making it easy for our military personnel(and all voters)to vote, but not at any cost.  

In 2004 the Department of Defense was all set to allow military personnel and overseas voters to vote on-line.  The program was shut down just days before election after review by computer security experts hired by the DOD.  

These experts concluded that due to the very architecture of the Internet and that of PCs, there were significant risks that could not be mitigated.  

NIST and the GAO came up with the same conclusions.  

The conclusion is, that software, open source or otherwise, will not correct or mitigate the security issues. What would be necessary would be to revamp basic Internet and PC design.

The PEW Center on the States found that WA's current system was one of the best for military voters in that it allowed more time for military personnel to receive and return their ballots.  

Now I am not saying that there isn't room for improvement, and other methods are being investigated, but Internet voting lacks transparency & verifiability of results (worse than paperless touch screen voting machines) and security.

Furthermore, the Secretary of State's office has indicated that the real goal is to make Internet voting available to the general public, and that the military program is test program.  Once again the our military personnel are being used to further other goals.

Do you really think that Sam Reed's office can do what the DOD's experts cannot?  

by raincity calling on Thu Feb 12, 2009 at 05:55:03 PM PST

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I am in touch with a number of people who are trying to educate members of our legislature so that they get the real facts as opposed to the ones being disseminated by the SOS.

Ellen Theisen of Voters Unite had an interesting conversation with Nick Handy, Director of Elections for the SOS.  He told Ellen that the SOS hasn't really researched the security issues -- that they preferred to get authorization to implement the program prior to spending time researching. He also stated that he didn't know where the private or alternative funding was going to come from. You can read her comments at www.votersunite.org.

Then comes this incredible statement from Ingrid Pharris, Executive Assistant, Office of the Secretary of State, who, in a reply to a voter's email opposing the bills stated:

"We understand that about a dozen computer scientists remain opposed to internet voting. Some sell books. Some speak on a speaking circuit.
Some have financially profited from their position on this issue. Some have started their own interest groups and websites. They have become
nationally known for this activist work. We respect their decision to speak out on this topic, but we most respectfully disagree that election officials and state Legislatures should not even explore this option."

Really!! So Sam Reed and Nick Handy are smarter and more knowledgeable than NIST, the GAO, PEW, computer scientists from U.C. Berkley, John Hopkins, and many others who have been working over the years to educate the public and elected officials about the dangers of Internet and  electronic voting generally. Really??

The sad part is, the SOS is feeding this garbage to our well meaning legislators who are apparently placing more value in what is coming out of the Secretary of State's office than in what their constituents are saying to them.  This is truly sad. They represent the voters, not Sam Reed and his pie in the sky fantasy project.

And what about transparency?  Our state legislature banned paperless touch screen voting machines after the 2004 recount fiasco when 100,000 votes could never be recounted or verified because Sam Reed had approved paperless touch screen voting machines and Snohomish County was "naive" enough to use them.

When are these people going to get a clue.  The voters know what they want and don't want. They  want secure, verifiable, and transparent elections. The Internet provides none of the above.

by raincity calling on Fri Feb 13, 2009 at 03:01:59 PM PST

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although that is a big danger.  If you read the DOD report and the NIST reports, which I will try and post tomorrow, there are many security risks.  Just look at the ones I posted.

There are many many different types of risks - privacy issue, denial of service for the purpose of disenfranchising voters, "man in the middle" issues (see post on Mike Connell for explanation of MIM attacks, manipulation of votes,...

Plus, there is the transparency and verifiability issues.  A democratic society requires transparent and verifiable elections.  We already have a problem in this area with our computerized computers.  The Internet is even worse.  

by raincity calling on Sat Feb 14, 2009 at 07:34:44 PM PST

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Think carefully about what the people who are critical are saying above... because largely and materially I agree with them.

<BLOCKQUOTE>One example I came up with just  off the top of my head was having a distinct code on the absentee ballot; ballots that could be secured among Security documents, one would then enter this specific code while casting their online vote and then mail in the corresponding form. This would allow for the immediate vote to be cast, but allow a paper trail to soon follow.</BLOCKQUOTE>

Well that would eliminate the secret ballot; now you may not care because you're in the military. But it would violate State law.

So.. let me get this right: you want to vote, and you want your vote to be counted, and then the paperwork catches up later. How do we know it is your vote, your imprimatur, your order... while still preserving secrecy?

"Off the top of my head" if the barcodes came to a group along with ballots and <B>you</B> randomly selected a barcode and affixed it to your ballot.. and only <B>you</B> knew what the barcode was (it would be a twin barcode, where you peeled one off, and kept the other in a safe location. you would have to choose your own barcode from the lot, that's key), well this could preserve the secrecy of the vote... but it would also run afoul State law because it would be a unique identifying mark affixed to the ballot.

If there was an issue, I suppose the military could make the lot of you who were deployed in the area where you voted that day go into a room together and individually identify and visually verify your ballots... and then come out and say yea or nay on the truthfulness of it, and nothing at all about who your buddy voted for. (Dead people would be harder to account for.)

That would make recounts really expensive.. but it might provide some unexpected respite from day to day business in Iraq, Afghanistan, or wherever!

Don't think I haven't raise this scenario before (at least in a civilian context), because I have. Nobody has understood it... or maybe they thought it diluted "the message".

Good luck...

by m3047 on Sun Feb 15, 2009 at 12:46:41 AM PST

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  • Yeah by ktkeller, 02/15/2009 12:57:37 PM PST (none / 0)
I don't think they have the capacity to tackle this job.  They also have little regard for the concerns of voters or any concept of transparency as a necessity for democratic elections(as evidenced by Sam Reed allowing paperless voting machines back in 2002 - now banned after 2004 fiasco;unwillingness to follow example of CA SOS; unwillingness to mandate audits).

Regarding this particular project,

  1. Nick Handy stated they haven't researched the security issues. (1)
  2. Project would be exempted from statutes governing voting systems, including the requirement that the system be tested and certified by an independent testing authority and have a voter verifiable and auditable paper record;
  3. The SOS completely disregards the opinions of nationally and internationally known computer security experts as evidenced by this statement:

"We understand that about a dozen computer scientists remain opposed to  internet voting. Some sell books. Some speak on a speaking circuit.  Some have financially profited from their position on this issue. Some have started their own interest groups and websites. They have become nationally known for this activist work. We respect their decision to speak out on this topic, but we most respectfully disagree that election officials and state Legislatures should not even explore this option."

Dorsol, I understand your concern for military voters.  I respect that and I care too. I have worked tirelessly over the past few years to ensure that voters are not disenfranchised. I have also worked tirelessly to ensure that our elections methods protect the secrecy of the ballot and that elections are secure, transparent and verifiable. The experts, who certainly know more about this subject than you or I, have said time and time again that these basic principles can not be accomplished with Internet voting.

Here is an excerpt from NIST's 2008 analysis regarding the threats to returning ballots by email (one possible method of Internet voting):

"In most instances, voted ballots returned via e-mail would reach election officials nearly instantaneously.  Communications could, however, be disrupted by malicious parties. Denial of service attacks are a significant threat to e-mail-based voting systems.  Attackers could flood election e-mail servers with large amounts of illegitimate traffic.  This could not only prevent voters' e-mails from reaching officials, but could also make it difficult for officials to distinguish between valid and invalid ballots.

Eavesdropping is a potential threat whenever Internet communications is involved, and particularly with e-mailed communications, which are sent unencrypted. While eavesdropping is not a significant threat for ballot distribution,...
voted ballots must remain confidential...E-mails are significantly easier to intercept and modify in transit than other forms of communication. E-mails travel through telecommunications lines, network equipment and e-mail servers before reaching the intended recipient.  Anyone with access to the infrastructure could read or even modify e-mail messages. In particular, e-mail servers often store messages for a short period of time before passing them on to the next server, or the intended recipient.  System operators for these servers could intercept or modify e-mailed ballots. It is unlikely that election officials would be able to identify ballots that have been modified in-transit..."

All the risks mentioned in the 2004 DOD report are reaffirmed in the 2008 NIST report.  Clearly no breakthroughs, as referred to in the 2004 report, have been made.

Since Sam Reed's office hasn't really researched the security risks, they are not informed and  don't even know what they are up against.

Furthermore, Nick Handy, the Elections Director for the WA Secretary of State apparently never read the actual bills. This gives me pause in and of itself. Until his conversation with Theisen he was unaware that the bills exempted the Internet project from the controls established in Chapter RCW 29A.12. This Chapter applies to all other voting systems in WA.

Given the SOS's lack of due diligence and their flagrant disregard of the opinion of experts and the voters, and the disregard to democratic principles of transparency and verifiability,I lack confidence in these people.

I am also deeply disappointed in the legislators who are sponsoring these bills and allowing Reed's office to fast track this poorly thought out project.

By the way, there is an editorial in today's  Olympian.

(1) Nick Handy Conversation w/Theisen.

by raincity calling on Sun Feb 15, 2009 at 12:52:09 PM PST

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I still will maintain that the security of such a vote could in some ways be secured. I will however admit that the point of security would be lost when the issue of a Recount became necessary. This would be specifically true in-regards to soldiers that had unfortunately fallen in the line of duty. We've already had this question raised in 2004 in some small counties when it seemed that the dead had somehow managed to get up and vote.

As strongly as I feel that a refinement in absentee voting is necessary to increase the timely nature and perceived lack of purpose behind them. It would do this country or state no good to have some deviant political consultant in the future warp the dead's votes in some twisted grab for office.

So as much as it pains anyone to admit their were wrong, I no longer feel that I can support SB5522/HB1624.

by dorsolplants on Sun Feb 15, 2009 at 08:01:37 PM PST

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(and starting) the debate. This is an attribute of a good candidate for political office.

by raincity calling on Sun Feb 15, 2009 at 11:25:35 PM PST

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Hi Dorsol Plants-

Everyone wants to enfranchise all legitimate voters. Including voters serving in the military. The comparative studies show that issuing ballots electronically (via email) is mostly sufficient for ensuring people get their ballots in time. Nationwide, we need to harmonize the timeline(s), laws, and procedures. But this is not a problem in Washington State (to the best of my knowledge).

---

I see that you no longer support this internet voting bill.

There's just one aspect that I want to point out. Because it's easy to fall into the trap of arguing about the technology and miss the legal and policy implications. It also illustrates, again, the inability of our election administrators (specifically the Wash Sec of State) to comprehend the consequences of their actions.

Yes, the DOD can run a secure network.

No, the 2,000+ individual counties nationwide responsible for administrating our elections cannot secure a network.

If we are to have secure online voting, it'd require the DOD to administrate those elections. Further, it'd require a massive built-out, basically an independent, parallel internet solely for the purpose of voting.

(Hat Tip to John Gideon of Voters Unite for flagging this hazzard.)

Cheers, Jason

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