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Security Concerns Raised About Possible Online Voting

As several U.S. states consider the possibility of allowing online voting amid the COVID-19 pandemic, various experts are sounding alarms about potential security risks, The Hill newspaper reports.

Some states, including New Jersey, Delaware, and West Virginia are planning to allow overseas military personnel and voters with disabilities to return their ballots electronically for 2020 elections, in response to health concerns about voting during a pandemic.

This development has spurred more discussion about the possibility of broader online voting in the future. But some experts and officials are urging against this, on the grounds that it could open up new opportunities for election interference.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has joined a group of federal agencies in criticizing the idea of online voting in guidelines sent to states that described online voting as risky.

“Electronic ballot return, the digital return of a voted ballot by the voter, creates significant security risks to voted ballot integrity, voter privacy, ballot secrecy, and system availability,” the agencies wrote in the guidelines, The Hill reports.  “Securing the return of voted ballots via the internet while maintaining voter privacy is difficult, if not impossible, at this time.”

Some members of Congress have also cited security concerns.

U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), the former chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee’s cybersecurity panel, has warned that Russia or other state actors could see online voting as a tempting way to interfere in U.S. elections.

“As experts have stated unequivocally for years, Internet voting is not secure,” Langevin said in a tweet recently. “The guidance echoes this assessment, making clear that electronic ballot return, as opposed to mailing returns, risks compromising the integrity of our voting process.”

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has also recently been critical of online voting.  

“Cybersecurity experts are sounding the alarm: internet voting will leave our elections vulnerable. Companies selling this technology with the promise of peace of mind are nothing more than snake oil salesmen,” Wyden tweeted this week. “#VoteByMail is the safest way to vote during a pandemic. Full stop.”

U.S. Election Assistance Commission Chairman Ben Hovland told The Hill recently that there are “real risks” involved with electronic voting.  “We’ve seen some progress in this space, but generally I think the consensus of scientists in this space is, we don’t yet have a system that is ready for mass usage,” Hovland said.

For more information on election security, see the Security Management article “A Warm-Up Election.”