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Washington State Legislature Proposes Using Military & Overseas Voters as Internet Voting Guinea Pigs
by Ellen Theisen. February 9, 2009

Update March 2, 2009. The bill has been defeated. One of the WA state representatives said that the Appropriations Committee killed the House version when they found that the fiscal impact was significantly greater than the fiscal note reflected. The Senate version also died in the Senate.

Even though reports from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), and dozens of computer security experts strongly and unanimously warn of insurmountable threats to the privacy and security of ballots cast over the Internet, the Washington State legislature is proposing – and fast-tracking – a bill to allow Internet voting for its military and overseas voters (S.B.5522 and its identical companion H.B.1624).

Even though the U.S. Department of Defense cancelled its Internet voting project (SERVE) in 2004 citing security concerns, and even though the DoD has still been unable to establish the secure and private Internet voting demonstration project that Congress mandated in 2002, the Washington State legislature is seriously considering a bill that would authorize the Washington Secretary of State to create an Internet voting scheme and declare it secure and private – without any oversight or review by the legislature or the people.

Even though the U.S. Homeland Security Department spent $6.6 Billion in 2008 to protect the Federal network systems and in November 2008 failed to prevent an unprecedented and strategically timed attack on the Pentagon and military networks that house classified information, the Washington State legislature’s bill would task the Secretary of State with creating a secure and private system using only “alternate funding.”

Even though the Pew Center on the States found that Washington State was one of the leading states in providing the time and the means for its military and overseas voters to vote, as required by the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA), the Washington State legislature is proposing to use its UOCAVA voters as guinea pigs, claiming that we owe it to them.

VotersUnite believes we owe them opportunities to cast a secret ballot with the maximum assurance that their votes will be counted accurately and that their ballots won’t be hijacked in cyberspace.

VotersUnite does not believe in using military and overseas voters as guinea pigs in a voting scheme that has already been determined by experts to be an “essentially impossible” task given the current architecture of the Internet.

VotersUnite does not believe in legislation authorizing a project from which only the vendor implementing the project stands to benefit.

Unfortunately, Washington is not the only state proposing to risk the votes of military and overseas voters by offering them Internet voting. Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, and New Mexico are also considering such schemes.

Despite the well-documented warnings by computer scientists and security experts alike, voting over the Internet appears to be attracting the interest of legislatures and state election officials who see only the convenience of the Internet and are ill-informed about the severe risks to the ballots. If hackers from foreign countries can penetrate the Pentagon and military computer networks with strategically-timed attacks, what would prevent them (or home-grown hackers) from destroying or changing the votes of Americans casting ballots over the Internet -- potentially impacting results of American elections?

State decision makers need to value the actual votes of the voters -- and the ability for those voters to have confidence that their votes were accurately counted -- more than the convenience offered by unreliable, unobservable systems. Experimentation in Washington and elsewhere in the country, using live voters during real elections, needs to stop. Our military deserve better, and so does every citizen in our democracy.

Ellen Theisen’s Testimony to the WA legislature

John Gideon’s Testimony to the WA legislature

Timeline of related events

Quotes on Internet voting from Experts, submitted to the WA legislature

How Pew Center on the States Compares WA to Other States

Theisen Conversation with WA Election Director, 2/11/09

Costs -- One Vendor's Estimate

Selections from Public Records Request

Technology that is widely deployed today
is not able to mitigate
many of the threats
to casting ballots via the web.
~ National Institute of Standards and Technology

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