Electronic Voting: Speedy and Secure

January 22, 2019

By the end of November 6th, more than 100 million American citizens had exercised their constitutionally protected and hard-won right to vote. Four days later, many are left unsure who their elected leaders are or if their vote had been counted. With twelve House races, three Senate races, and three gubernatorial races still too close to call, many citizens are fairly wondering if there is a faster way to tabulate votes in the modern age. Electronic voting is one potential solution to this problem. Electronic voting has many upsides: ballots would not need to be printed in advance, provisional ballots getting mixed with proper ballots would be less of a concern, and the tabulation process would be generally streamlined. But, with concerns about voter fraud and corruption on both sides of the aisle, the security of our elections must also remain a top concern.

Experts from both academia and cybersecurity have been concerned with electronic voting security for years. While concerns with the security of electronic voting are not new, they played a role in voting methods used in the 2018 midterm election. But, not all electronic voting machines are equally unsecure. Electronic voting machines that do not produce paper receipts are particularly concerning. All machines are vulnerable to software glitches. However, electronic voting machines that do produce receipts at least give voters the opportunity to spot errors. Electronic voting machines that do not produce paper receipts could potentially have internal software errors that are nearly undetectable. Electronic voting that produces paper receipts may be the solution that balances the need for efficient voting and tabulation with the need for the highest levels of security.

Electronic voting has many upsides: ballots would not need to be printed in advance, provisional ballots getting mixed with proper ballots would be less of a concern, and the tabulation process would be generally streamlined.

One county clerk recognized the potential of electronic voting machines that produce paper receipts to revolutionize the voting process in a secure way and took action. Dana Debeauvoir, the County Clerk for Travis County in Texas, gathered a group of election administrators, cyber security experts, and academics to create a solution. After more than a decade of work, they came up with STAR-Vote: A Secure, Transparent, Auditable, and Reliable Voting System. By creating an auditable voting records, voters and administrators could ensure that voters were being properly counted in a way that was unhackable. Unfortunately, while their software was promising, machine manufacturers simply refused to create machines that could use the STAR-Vote system. Instead, machine manufactures stayed with the more-profitable systems that they had already been using. Even though the STAR-Vote design did not take off, voters in Travis County will use a similar system for the next presidential election. Debeauvoir is confident that the similar system her voters will be using will “have all the advantages of electronic voting and its additional security”. As voters hear rumors of lost boxes of ballots and temporarily lost jump drives containing votes, questions about how we can modernize and secure the voting process are at forefront. While some counties are taking steps to take voting into the future, we are a long time and a lot of funding away from getting there.

Carlos Zapata, 12 November 2018