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Why you can't vote online in the U.S. election

Posting in Technology

If Estonia can vote online, like the woman above, why can't the Unites States?

There's online banking, online dating, and online classes. It seems like our entire world is online sometimes. So as millions of United States citizens go to the polls tomorrow (with some early voters already having experienced major problems), why isn't the U.S. voting online?

Technology Review reports on an e-voting symposium held at Princeton University that discussed the problems with online voting. The main problem? Not surprisingly, security.

Given the well-understood vulnerabilities of networked computer systems, the problem is far from solved, says David Dill, a Stanford computer scientist. “Basically, it relies on the user’s computer being trustworthy. If a virus can intercept a vote at keyboard or screen, there is basically no defense,” Dill says. “There are really fundamental problems. Perhaps a system could be tightened so some particular hack won’t work. But overall, systems tend to be vulnerable.”

This year, the U.S. Department of Defense canceled plans to allow Internet voting by military personnel overseas after a security team audited a $22 million system developed by Accenture and found it vulnerable to cyberattacks.

And in response to the fact that some nations like Estonia have turned to online voting, Dill says: "I contend that nobody knows whether there is fraud in those nations, because there is no way to detect it.”

In 2010, the District of Columbia tested online voting and asked computer experts to try to hack the system. The result? You guessed it: The hackers were successful and the program was suspended.

Online voting is certainly appealing. In the last presidential election in the U.S. only about 58 percent of the voting-age population actually voted. Voting online would make a process that should only take a few minutes actually take a few minutes instead of a few hours. Making voting easier could mean an increase in participation.

But if the U.S. ever did make the switch to online voting, I think it would lose a powerful symbol of democracy: Being physically present with your neighbors to cast a vote that counts the same, no matter if you're rich or poor, black or white, female or male. Would it be worth losing that symbol for potentially greater voter participation? We'll save that discussion for the day when online voting is viable.

Why you can't vote online Tuesday [Technology Review]

Photo: Flickr/European Parliament

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— By on November 5, 2012, 2:32 AM PST

Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure