Voting by email: what could go wrong?
On November 24, 2014 widely reported stories told of Sony Pictures being hacked, resulting in the loss of an incredible amount of intellectual property. Then last month, a massive cyberattack hacked Anthem Blue Cross, leading to a breach of over 11 million customers’ personal information.
Now, with the end of the session less than four weeks away, legislators in Colorado—both Democrat and Republican—are working on a bill that could expand the use of internet voting, claiming that it is safe and secure.
The bill, known as House Bill 15-1130, would mark the third year in a row that the legislature has tried to overhaul elections in Colorado. Each bill has been worse than the last. In the 2013 session, the Democrat-controlled legislature passed a bill that contained mandatory all mail-in ballots, same day voter registration and reduced residency requirements for any state-wide election. In 2014, they extended these bad ideas to local elections.
With Republicans winning control of the state Senate in November, we could have expected, if not repeal of the worst provisions of the previous years, then at least no more damage. This may not be the case if HB15-1130 passes as drafted.
Originally, the bill was titled “Concerning Voting by Military and Overseas Voters in Municipal Elections,” and the intent was to allow those voters the same rights they have in state-wide elections. However, as election activist Harvie Branscomb noted, that bill contained no reference to military voters. “What it appears to be is an attempt to restrict access to the ballot for candidates by requiring much earlier lead times for nomination and eliminating a vacancy process,” he wrote in an email to the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Su Ryden (D-36). “Isn't it bordering on unethical to fabricate a bill in this misleading format?”
The House subsequently heavily amended the bill. In the process, however, the door was opened to email or electronic voting.
Margit Johansson from Boulder, Colorado, with Coloradans for Voting Integrity testified against the bill, noting “electronictransmissiontoreturnvotedballotsinvolvesourpresent Internet,whichhasbeenfoundbycomputersecurityexpertstobetoo insecurefor this usein our elections.Theevidenceforthisassertionisoverwhelming.”
She further testified to what anyone with a passing knowledge of information technology already knows: “There’s no way to guarantee that the security, privacy, and transparency requirements for elections can all be met with any practical technology in the foreseeable future. Anyone from a disaffected misfit individual to a national intelligence agency can remotely attack an online election, modifying or filtering ballots in a way that are undetectable and uncorrectable, or just disrupting the election and creating havoc.”
The federal Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act covers military and civilians in federal elections; this bill would only potentially improve the situation for municipal (home rule cities) elections. Every other circumstance is already covered.
The potential for fraud in all elections is greatly increased. Sen. Leroy Garcia, a Senate bill sponsor and a Marine veteran of Iraq, testified to the difficulty of getting and returning ballots on time overseas. However, as Americans are all too aware these days, we no longer have ground forces in Iraq.
What the bill will do—even as currently amended—is expand the use of insecure and non-certifiable means of returning ballots. Not just for the soldier in a remove combat location with tenuous communications, but for just about anyone outside the borders of Colorado.
Already, Pueblo Clerk and Recorder Bo Ortiz—no poster child for election integrity—testified “we’ve seen a huge transition of a lot of ballots coming in by fax to now email. I think in Pueblo County that we’re getting more than 90 percent of our UOCAVA voters voting electronically.” Do 90% of Pueblo’s military voters have no other option?
That’s the “feasibility” question that remains to be solved. Working with election integrity activists, some legislators are drafting amendments that will narrow the focus from an unreasonable 90% to something more realistic. Ideally, they’d get rid of email or electronic means entirely.
“Tomorrow the bill goes to committee and I’m hoping we’ll have a consensus by then,” said Rep. Dan Nordberg (R-Colo Spgs), a House sponsor.
At least this year we’re getting reasoned and thoughtful debate.