E-Voting Enthusiasts Face Hurdles

Computer scientists cite major security flaws in e-voting initiative canceled by Pentagon.

Internet voting in a U.S. presidential election is gone, but it is not forgotten. The security concerns that last month forced the Pentagon to cancel a project allowing some military personnel and other U.S. citizens to vote online from overseas in November dampened the Internet voting initiative, but it did not deter enthusiasts.

The Michigan Democratic Party, undeterred by the demise of the federal SERVE (Secure Electronic Registration and Voting Experiment) project, permitted online voting for the first time in its Feb. 7 caucus. The party hopes to repeat the experiment in four years.

"It was a success. It was secure, and that was the main focus," said Jason Moon, spokesman for the party in Lansing. "Were hopeful it can be part of our next caucus."

The system, operated by Election Services Corp., was protected by two firewalls and monitored around the clock, and it elicited twice as many votes as the 2000 caucus, according to Moon. "Im sure there will be some changes," he said, "but no conclusions have been made."

For the computer scientists who put the kibosh on the SERVE project, the only change now needed is the abolishment of the Internet voting experiment. "People who understand security do not advocate Internet voting," said Barbara Simons, a computer scientist who served on the peer review panel that recommended shutting down SERVE in January. In Simons view, the Michigan Democratic caucus results proved nothing.

"I dont think there was a whole lot of motivation for stealing that [Michigan] election. It was a foregone conclusion," said Simons in Palo Alto, Calif. "If [Sen. John] Kerry hadnt won, people would have known that things were screwed up."


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The problem with testing Internet voting systems is that the stakes are too high in an election where there is a strong motivation for fraud, Simons said. Testing in an election that doesnt matter—as some have suggested SERVE should be tested—removes the conditions that could threaten the integrity of votes, she said.

"We have a logical problem here with Internet voting and with paperless touch-screen voting," Simons said. "Theres no incentive for someone to subvert the votes in an election that doesnt count."

Next Page: Peer review team said system could cause automated vote buying and selling and privacy violations.