The move by King County to allow the casting of a ballot through a smartphone is historic, albeit dangerous.
Our country was hit by a Russian cyber attack on our 2016 presidential election, and four years later, we are still dealing with the fallout in this new election cycle.
Although there is no evidence pointing toward any changes in votes or data, the potential for tampering is one our government cannot afford to leave unaddressed, and a move toward online voting, however new and convenient, seems a step back from remedying this breech in security.
A bipartisan report on Russian election interference supports caution as well. In the report, the Senate Intelligence Committee said, “States should resist pushes for online voting.”
Speaking along the same lines in an interview conducted by National Public Radio, Duncan Buell, an expert in election technology at the University of South Carolina, said, “there is a firm consensus in the cybersecurity community that mobile voting on a smartphone is a really stupid idea.”
It has been proven time and again that paper ballots are the gold standard of voting.
What makes Washington state’s vote-by-mail election system extremely secure is paper. Those ballots can’t be tampered with through a cyber attack and can always be recounted when necessary.
In Walla Walla County, for example, County Elections Supervisor Dave Valiant said in 2016 that results are put on a Zip disk and then carried to a Zip drive (introduced in 1994) to be loaded onto a computer.
Since there is no internet involved — only the old fashioned sneaker-net (as in walking) — computer hackers can’t access or change the information.
This year, the new electronic system being put to the test will have King County voters using their names and birthdates to log in to a website through any internet browser on their phones, said Bryan Finney, the CEO of Democracy Live, the Seattle-based voting company providing the technology.
Once ballots are complete, voters must verify selections, then submit their signatures through their device.
Though King County election officials plan to create an auditable paper trail by printing out electronically submitted ballots, the fact that they crossed through the internet at all is enough to cast doubt on the entire process.
As ever, the U-B believes that the carefully tracked system available through the paper ballot is central to ensuring confidence in elections that so contributes to the health of our democracy.