News / USA

    Internet Voting Unlikely to Replace Paper Ballots in US

    FILE - Interest in online voting may jump with the success of Utah's use of blockchain technology in this year's vote, says one insider.
    FILE - Interest in online voting may jump with the success of Utah's use of blockchain technology in this year's vote, says one insider.

    Way back in March 2000, when the Internet was still in its adolescent growth spurt, the Arizona Democratic Party allowed its members to vote in the presidential primary one of three ways: in person, by mail, or via the Internet.

    It was a daring move at a time when many people's web experience was little more than a dial-up modem. But it proved wildly successful. According to the Congressional Research Service, some 37,000 Arizona Democrats voted online in the primary. Another 20,000 or so voted by mail, with 20,000 others physically voting at polling stations.

    A near doubling of primary turnout was seen as a great boost to the company that oversaw the vote, Election.com, and to the concept of web-based elections. But in the years that followed, few states showed much interest in the technology, and the Arizona vote was chalked up as a one-time event.

    As the then-CEO at Election.com, Joseph Mohen says this year's successful Utah vote, using blockchain technology, may re-energize the public to start pressing for greater online voting options.

    Mohen sat down for an interview with VOA.

    VOA: Because it was so new, was it hard to convince (Arizona) election officials to give it a try?

    Mohen: Because Arizona at the time was still subject to Department of Justice oversight by the Voting Rights Act, we had to do an extraordinary amount of work to convince officials and civil rights leaders that nobody would be disenfranchised in this.

    We educated low income residents, Latino voters, African-American voters, and Native American voters. We had vans driving around Phoenix, communications media in Spanish and translated our material into Navajo and Apache. One-third of the land in Arizona is native land, and native voters make up a significant block of the electorate. But at that time, one-third of all native voters lacked electricity, so we really had to jump through hoops to make sure all eligible voters had every opportunity to vote.

    Joseph Mohen and then-First Lady Hillary ClintonJoseph Mohen and then-First Lady Hillary Clinton
    x
    Joseph Mohen and then-First Lady Hillary Clinton
    Joseph Mohen and then-First Lady Hillary Clinton

    VOA: How did it work, and how did you guarantee vote safety and accuracy back then?

    Mohen: In 2000, we already had some experience with online voting systems. What we were able to do is use the technology we had — fairly sophisticated encryption and a proprietary technology — to build our own system. My understanding is that the Utah caucus cost about $180,000; we spent about $7.5 million in 2000.

    VOA: That's several magnitudes more expensive …

    Mohen: Remember, we had access to that kind of money because of the dot-com bubble. The Internet was totally changing the world. There was plenty of money flowing.

    We also had an extraordinary amount of help from a Who's Who of the Internet back then. Cisco made their team available, and it was them that helped deflect attempted DDoS (denial of service) attacks. KPMG reviewed all our systems; Verisign invested in our company and provided us assistance with digital certificates.

    The only luminary in the Internet business that refused to help us was Apple. Steve Jobs wouldn't even allow his secretary to talk to us. So to get help with Mac security issues, we went to Microsoft who was Apple's biggest shareholder, and Microsoft helped us understand the Mac encryption issues. So when you add in all the help we received from the industry, it was a lot more than 7.5 million.

    VOA: How did the vote go? I read there were some DDoS attacks.

    Mohen: We took every county database of every registered democrat in Arizona — something like 850,000. Every registered voter had another month to register and update their information. After that, everyone was given a PIN. When it came time to vote, the voter had to supply the PIN and also verify personal information.

    Of course we had denial of service attacks. Every pizza shop that ever set up a website has had a DDoS attack. But that doesn't mean ‘let's go home and go back to paper.'

    I think we had 80 million hits on the website the first day, because everyone all over the world knew it was going on. So that first morning, the system was slow. By about lunchtime, with Cisco's help, all that cleared up. We got good at it.

    Now, compare that with what happened this week in Arizona, and what will undoubtedly happen somewhere this fall. In some cases, there was a five-hour wait to vote. Five hours! And the state cut the number of polling places. In Mississippi, they cut the number of polling places, and people have to travel sometimes half an hour to vote. How do you do that in a rural area if you don't have a car, or have to work, or are a single parent?

    VOA: But are online systems really trustworthy when it seems like everything these days is getting hacked?

    Mohen: Today we have blockchain technology it's the same technology that underlies Bitcoin. That technology is virtually hack-proof; it's so hacker-proof that NASDAQ and the New York Stock Exchange are moving all their trading systems over to blockchain. I'm really very impressed with what they did in Utah, and their forward thinking and courage.

    VOA: What would you say to me if I was a voter, or an election official, and I had worries about voting online?

    Mohen: State, county, and local elections on paper in the U.S. — they're probably being hacked all the time already. There are challenges to a manual system and to an online system. My point is that you have to look at the totality of a system and not be afraid of the new, just because you're afraid of it or you fear there potentially may be a problem.

    Look at 2000. We held a successful online vote in Arizona — doubled primary turnout. Then a few months later, we had a failed national election using old technology. The margin of victory was 537 votes, and I guarantee the margin of error was exponentially higher, so that entire election failed.

    Imagine all the consequences that followed from that election, and no-one will ever know who really won by votes cast.

    You know another election then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and EU leaders say was hacked? Russia — Putin's recent [2012] re-election victory. Putin hacked the ballot in Russia. Would he have won anyway? Who can say? If we had blockchain technology doing the elections in Russia, it wouldn't be hackable.

    VOA: So, if Internet voting now is so reliable and combats fraud, why aren't we seeing more of it?

    Mohen: There's a simple reason why it isn't going to happen soon in the U.S., although it may in some other countries: Incumbents get re-elected, generally at very high rates. The entire voting process favors incumbents. It's set up to discourage people who don't ordinarily vote from voting.

    When early voting was implemented in Texas and North Carolina, incumbents got voted out. Guess what happened? They got rid of early voting. Power preserves itself at all costs.

    Internet voting works. We've proven it. It's virtually un-hackable with blockchain. It's available to jurisdictions that want it. However, people have to remember once it's allowed, incumbents aren't likely to get re-elected at the same rate, so it will fundamentally change the power structure.

    But because it's those incumbents who will make the decision to allow internet voting, don't hold your breath. It's not a security issue, it's about keeping incumbents in power.


    Doug Bernard

    dbjohnson+voanews.com

    Doug Bernard covers cyber-issues for VOA, focusing on Internet privacy, security and censorship circumvention. Previously he edited VOA’s “Digital Frontiers” blog, produced the “Daily Download” webcast and hosted “Talk to America”, for which he won the International Presenter of the Year award from the Association for International Broadcasting. He began his career at Michigan Public Radio, and has contributed to "The New York Times," the "Christian Science Monitor," SPIN and NPR, among others. You can follow him @dfrontiers.

    You May Like

    Russian-speaking Muslim Exiles Fear Possible Russia-Turkey Thaw

    Exiled from Russia as Islamic radicals and extremists, thousands found asylum in Turkey

    US Presidential Election Ends at Conventions for Territorial Citizens

    Citizens of US territories like Guam or Puerto Rico enjoy participation in US political process but are denied right to vote for president

    UN Syria Envoy: 'Devil Is in the Details' of Russian Aleppo Proposal

    UN uncertain about the possible humanitarian impact of Russian proposal to establish escape corridors in Aleppo

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Busi
    X
    July 28, 2016 4:16 AM
    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Bus

    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Silicon Valley: More Than A Place, It's a Culture

    Silicon Valley is a technology powerhouse and a place that companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple call home. It is a region in northern California that stretches from San Francisco to San Jose. But, more than that, it's known for its startup culture. VOA's Elizabeth Lee went inside one company to find out what it's like to work in a startup.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Philadelphia Uses DNC Spotlight to Profile Historic Role in Founding of United States

    The slogan of the Democratic National Convention now underway in Philadelphia is “Let’s Make History Again” which recognizes the role the city played in the foundation of the United States in the 18th century. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, local institutions are opening their doors in an effort to capitalize on the convention spotlight to draw visitors, and to offer more than just a history lesson.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora