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Internet Voting Systems

The State of Michigan has had about 46,000 votes, or 28% of the total votes cast in its caucuses, cast over the Internet. The Democratic party is happy with the results. The Department of Defense, however, is not so confident of the technology.

The Secure Electronic Registration and Voting Experiment (SERVE) cost US taxpayers $22 million, and was designed to let 100,000 overseas troops to vote via the Internet. It was squashed, however, after a report was released outlining critical problems with the system. The system, "has numerous other fundamental security problems that leave it vulnerable to a variety of well-known cyber attacks, any one of which could be catastrophic," according to the report.

Accenture, the main contractor on the project, said that the researchers drew unwarranted conclusions about the project. They have signed up seven States to participate in the program during the 2004 election campaign: Arkansas, Florida, Hawaii, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah and Washington.

The Risks of Electronic Voting

There are numerous types of electronic voting systems already in use in the US, ranging from punched cards in Florida through completely electronic systems, such as the SERVE system. Most of the problems lie with the completely electronic systems.

Marked card systems, such as the punched card or lever-pull systems and the pen-marked systems, are accepted by many experts as the safest to use. These systems not only tally counts electronically, but can be manually audited when there is a problem or question. Having a paper trail is an absolute requirement if people are going to have faith in the results of the election.

Totally Electronic Voting Systems

Totally electronic voting systems are based upon standard computer technology. These devices often are personal computers with special programs and hardware designed to help collect and tabulate votes. And hence the problem.

Basing electronic voting systems on a general computing platform opens the systems up to numerous well-known vulnerabilities and attacks. Many of the voting systems are based upon Microsoft Windows with networking enabled -- a vulnerable combination.

Add the Internet to the already vulnerable mix, and things start to get worse. The Internet servers collecting the votes are subject to attack, as are the browsers being used by the voters and the networks used to connect the two together. Can you be truly sure that the votes were properly tabulated?

Not only do you have to properly tabulate the votes, but you have to properly authenticate the voters. Trying to determine who is actually voting, and their number of votes, has proven to be problematic.

It will be years before a secure, properly auditable, Internet electronic voting system will be brought online, but it will happen.

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