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SCIENCE AND THE BALLOT

HOW SECURE IS our balloting? Last year, the American Association for the Advancement of Science established the AAAS Center for Scientific Evidence in Public Issues. One focus, as described by AAAS, is to improve election security.

As part of this, AAAS coordinated with the Association for Computing Machinery, described as the world’s largest society uniting the world’s computing educators, researchers, and professionals.

The Assessment. AAAS reports, “In too many counties across the country, ballots are being cast on insecure electronic systems that record a voter’s selection directly to the machine’s memory and automatically tabulate votes. The scientific community has demonstrated the security vulnerabilities of these direct recording electronic systems, many of which leave no physical record of the cast vote.”

This assessment prompted a letter to U.S. governors, secretaries of state, and state election directors that recommends against Internet voting. As described by AAAS, “The letter was signed by 60 eminent experts, including Internet and crypto pioneers, and prominent leaders in the intelligence and cybersecurity communities.” AAAS members have also been given the opportunity to add their names in support.

Here are several points in the AAAS “Letter to Governors and Secretaries of State on the Insecurity of Online Voting.”

Hacking. “At this time,” AAAS writes, “Internet voting is not a secure solution for voting in the United States, nor will it be in the foreseeable future….”

The letter cites a number of potential vulnerabilities: malware, denial of service attacks, voter authentication, ballot protection and anonymization, and how disputed ballots are handled.

No Paper Trail. The letter notes, for example, “… there is no way to conduct a valid audit of the results due to the lack of meaningful voter-verified paper record.”

Internet Voting Trials. The letter cites that the U.S. Department of Defense suspended an Internet voting trial after concluding “it could not ensure the legitimacy of votes cast over the Internet and the Pentagon has stated it does not endorse the electronic return of voted ballots.”

Even the Department of Homeland Security’s cyber-division “does not recommend the adoption of online voting for any level of government.” In fact, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission has yet to certify any Internet voting systems.

A Smartphone App. Voatz calls itself “a leader in mobile voting” and lists a number of government entities among its users. However, the AAAS letter says, “MIT researchers reported a variety of potential vulnerabilities after examining a portion of Voatz code. Researchers easily circumvented Voatz’s malware detection software, demonstrating a potential avenue to exposing the voter’s private information or manipulating their ballot.”

Other mobile app shortcomings include potentials for location and identify theft.

AAAS Recommendations. The letter observes, “At this difficult time, election officials seek to protect citizens’ health and access to the ballot. COVID-19 presents significant barriers to voting. However, Internet voting is not a viable solution given the longstanding and critical security issues it presents.”

It continues, “Thoughtful implementation of alternative voting methods such as voting by mail and early voting can help support the diverse needs of the electorate, addressing both new concerns relating to COVID-19 and existing disparities in ballot access.”

The California Option. On May 8, 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order to have every registered voter in the state automatically mailed a ballot for the November presidential election.

Image from Los Angeles Times, April 16, 2020.

“Mail-in ballot is important, but it’s not an exclusive substitute to physical locations,” Newsom said. California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said this makes California the first state in the nation to send voters their ballots ahead of the general election in response to the coronavirus.

Trump’s Response. Perhaps it comes as no surprise that Trump attacked the California plan. Indeed, back on April 8, 2020, he tweeted his opposition for voting by mail because it “doesn’t work out well for Republicans.”

This is despite experts’ findings that mail-in ballots don’t favor one party or the other.

I have opted to vote by mail here in California for years. And, for once, I agree with Trump: My vote certainly doesn’t work out well for him. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2020

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