Online voting system would require scrutinyThe Olympian Feb 15 2009
Proposed internet voting legislation in Washington state raises questions about the security of online voting systems.
On the surface it sounds like a terrific idea: Let members of the armed forces serving abroad and state residents living in foreign lands, vote via the Internet so that their ballots can be tabulated in a timely fashion.
It sounds great because every election, ballots from remote corners of the world that were voted on time are rejected because they arrive back at the counting offices after the election results have been certified.
Legislators have tried to remedy the situation by requiring that overseas ballots to 67,000 voters be mailed a full 30 days prior to any primary, general or special election. As long as the voter signs the ballot return envelope by Election Day, it's a legitimate vote.
The problem comes in getting the ballot returned to county auditors. Ballots travel on stand-by mode while in the military system. It can take weeks to return the ballot stateside. By law, election officials must certify the election results 21 days after the election.
Thurston County Auditor Kim Wyman said in last November's general election, her office mailed out 6,169 overseas ballots. While 4,421 of them voted in a timely fashion, 15 otherwise legitimate ballots did not make it back to her office in time to be part of the final vote count.
That disenfranchises voters.
Wyman, to her credit, has taken bold steps to reduce the number of disenfranchised overseas voters. In 1996, she started a system to e-mail ballots overseas upon request. In fact, voters living abroad receive two ballots: the e-mail version and a regular optical scan ballot.
Voters can return the e-mail ballot via fax machine, but they give up their right to a secret ballot in the process. They can return it via the mail and maintain secrecy.
While overseas voters may vote and return both ballots, only one is counted, Wyman said.
The first priority is to count the regular optical scan ballot. If that ballot is not back in time, the default is to count the e-mail ballot.
She said the e-mail system has reduced the number of late-arriving ballots.
But Secretary of State Sam Reed has a different idea how to better accommodate overseas voters. He wants to allow Internet voting for those living and working overseas — missionaries, students, military dependents, contractors, etc.
To that end, Reed has introduced Senate Bill 5522 and House Bill 1624. The bills would give Reed the authority to approve an Internet voting program for overseas voters only. The bills say the Internet system must be secure and protect the secrecy of the ballot.
And therein lies the problem.