Politics

Towards a more effective approach to fighting Internet voting

Internet voting is creeping its way into America, opening the door to pseudo-elections and digital dictatorship. Below is a concise look at what’s wrong with it and suggestions for how to argue more effectively against it.

Internet voting proposals reemerge every year, no matter how devastating the research against the concept. Formidable research showing that it cannot be made secure has been published over and over by academics who examine Internet voting through a lens of technological security. That’s slowing down Internet voting’s relentless march, but in the end this approach won’t stop it.

WHY TECHNOLOGICAL ARGUMENTS FAIL TO HALT INTERNET VOTING

Fighting Internet voting on technological grounds will lose because these studies omit any mention of why Internet voting violates basic principles of freedom.

A few Americans care a little bit about how secure something is. But all Americans care a lot about whether they live in a free country.

A handful of people understand cryptography, telecommunications and computer programming. But everyone understands that if people inside the government are allowed to secretly choose themselves to represent us, we lose our liberty.

As long as arcane discussions about what is and is not “secure” are the primary framework for fighting Internet voting, new business models will keep popping up and new Internet voting legislation will keep being proposed, because when you are talking about how secure a system is, there are compromises to be made. Arguments can be made that it is easier to vote, even if it is arguably less secure.

IT’S EASY FOR EVERYONE TO UNDERSTAND WHAT’S WRONG WITH INTERNET VOTING WHEN VIEWED THROUGH THE HUMAN RIGHTS LENS

Internet voting centralizes and makes secret the process of choosing public representation, thereby removing public sovereignty over government.

Those who control the implementation of any Internet voting system ultimately control who runs our government. While it’s true that they MIGHT be benevolent and let the people choose, they also might not, and there’s not a thing we can do about that, nor can we even know whether someone else decided to choose for us. Such a system can appear to be a democracy but upon closer inspection, it’s easy to see that it is false freedom because it has removed public controls.

HOW INTERNET VOTING VIOLATES HUMAN RIGHTS

Internet voting violates your inalienable right to freedom by concealing all four essential steps of the election from the public (thus removing public sovereignty over government by conducting the choosing process in secret); in addition, it removes political privacy, creating mechanisms for the harvesting of vast databases showing insiders how everyone voted.

The four essential processes concealed from the public by Internet voting:

  1. Who can vote (the eligible voter list as seen by the Internet voting system, which need not be the real voter list.)
  2. Who did vote
  3. Chain of Custody
  4. Counting of the Vote

Now add to this the removal of your political privacy. I should clarify that with automated harvesting of connectors that can attach votes to voters, we are not just looking at retail snooping. It’s not just a problem of how YOU voted. Data harvesting that connects vast blocs of votes to voters can then be overlaid with maps, and can be used to create manipulatable and false voter demographics, a statistical funhouse mirror for pollsters and the media.

Internet voting is a direct threat to freedom because it removes public ability to see and authenticate nearly every aspect of our own elections, replacing it with control by insiders and a requirement that we trust and have confidence in a subset of experts to tell us whether things are okay.

WHY WE NEED TO MOVE ACADEMIA TOWARDS THE HUMAN RIGHTS MODEL

Here’s just one of the many security-oriented studies on Internet Voting:

What is missing from that statement are the words “BY THE PUBLIC.” I have spoken to several computer scientists who are fighting Internet voting. There’s a reason they omit the words “by the public.” They don’t place a priority on that right.

For many academics fighting Internet voting, it’s quite fine conceptually for THEM to tell the public the election “has been verified.” One of the academics admitted to me that even HE does not understand the statistical model he is recommending for “risk limiting audits.”

Let me recap a conversation I had recently with one of the guys from ACCURATE:

Academic: “With this plan, the public can be told the election has been verified.”

Me: “You mean the public can verify it for themselves?”

Academic: “They can have confidence it has been verified.”

Me: “But the public must be able to authenticate, without need for special expertise.”

Academic: “Without need for special expertise? I’m not with you on that.”

Me: “It’s not about computer security. It’s about human rights. It’s about retaining public sovereignty over our own government.”

Academic: “I don’t understand.”

That public sovereignty requires public controls is not a complex concept.

But let me present another argument for simplicity in elections: When you try to engage in public discourse on complex material, people disengage.

And here’s another: The public (including reporters and legislators) can be duped by competing experts. You see this all the time in the media, where they sometimes act more like stenographers than journalists. “Get a quote from an opposing source.” “Okay.” Both quotes are duly reported. According to Dr. Snuff the sky is blue. Dr. Sniff disagrees, the sky is gray.

That’s nice, but the point here is that every member of the public should be able to look at the sky for themselves rather than being prohibited to look at it, told that now we must replace our own view of the sky with “confidence” in what Dr. Snuff or Dr. Sniff says. Hey buddy, whose sky is this anyway?

When special expertise is needed to understand a complex technological election system, you get poor public participation, bad law and inadequate news reporting. When it’s complex and needs special expertise, the public, the media and our legislators give up on trying to understand the issue at all. They end up reverting back to something they do understand, like “it’s less expensive” or “it might make it easier to vote.”

For these reasons I urge academia to take a different path in their fight against Internet voting. Begin studying the human rights aspect of this. It’s a simple concept but I’m sure if you try you can make it complex enough to see it as “interesting” and therefore worthy of study.

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P.S. Following are some of the devils and details in current Internet Voting-related legislative trends.

Recent legislation enables military and overseas voters to order their ballot over the Internet (but then actually vote it on paper and mail it back). If restricted to just ordering an absentee ballot for a military voter, this doesn’t violate anyone’s rights. (Although it’s unclear to me why they have lumped all overseas voters — for example, your uncle who happens to live in Australia — into the category of voters who may be so challenged by obtaining an absentee ballot in time to vote that they need to do it over the Internet). Presently, that’s where we stand.

But this legislation is already beginning to shift into attempts to do real Internet voting. In Washington State, for example, the H1000 bill just passed its first step for becoming law. Here’s the decoder ring on it:

Initially the bill made it clear that returning the ballot by fax or e-mail sacrifices voter privacy, and required the voter to authorize this. Then legislators edited the bill to remove the notification to the voter that returning ballots electronically eliminates their political privacy and they also edited out the requirement for voters to give permission.

They kept the privacy-taking option of returning the ballot electronically, with the net effect that unsophisticated voters are invited to return ballots using mechanisms that fail to disclose they have just given up their political privacy.

Then Washington state legislators added a section which sticks in a toe-hold for true Internet voting, adding that a voter may “transmit a ballot using forms and methods available through the United States department of defense and United States election assistance commission.”

Watch for that little foot-in-the-door near you.

Originally published at Black Box Voting

(Editor’s note:  Bev Harris, director of Black Box Voting,  lives in Renton, WA)

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