Where We Stand – on D.C. and Elsewhere

We’ve been answering lots of questions about the OSDV Foundation’s role in the District of Columbia’s Pilot “digital vote-by-mail” project, including a recent post with a detailed account of the history leading up to the Pilot.  But there is one Q&A in particular that I want to share with a broader audience. It’s a two-part question:

  1. Where do the OSDV Foundation and TrustTheVote Project stand on Internet voting?
  2. How does this square with OSDV’s role in the D.C. Pilot?

To complement Greg’s recent post , I’ve provided what I hope is a crisp, yet complete, answer in the form of a pointed list of positions, which apply very specifically to the use of technology in U.S. elections.

On Internet Voting

  • We do not support Internet voting for everyone – such all-electronic elections lack the ease of independent verification that is the strength of the method of op-scan counted paper ballots coupled with mandatory auditing.
  • We do not support any of the types of Internet voting used in other countries – there is no voter-approved ballot document when the ballot itself is HTML and HTTP data exchanged by a Web browser and an i-voting server.
  • We do not support any usage of email for transporting marked ballots – email is fundamentally and easily vulnerable to mischief en route from the voter to the BOE.
  • These on-line methods of voting and ballot transport all have significant risks to ballot integrity, inherent in the use of the Internet.
  • These on-line methods have significant risk to the “secret ballot” by making either ballots or votes attributable to specific voters.
  • These on-line methods are not a form of “verified voting” where the ballot marked by the voter is the ballot that is counted.
  • We fully support verified voting methods for domestic polling place voting.
  • We fully support existing election practices of paper vote-by-mail.
  • Our core mission is and will remain the creation of open transparent technology to support the existing election practices.
  • We support existing UOCAVA voter-support methods including digital distribution of blank ballots, and express delivery (e.g., surface courier or mails) of marked paper ballots from the voter to their respective BOE.
  • We believe that there may be a need for digital ballot return by those UOCAVA voters who lack timely access to rapid and reliable means of paper ballot return, and who have recently used email for digital ballot return.
  • We believe that it is worth considering whether those UOCAVA voters should demonstrate a need for digital return because of that lack of timely access.

About the D.C. Pilot

  • We are supporting D.C.’s Pilot effort to investigate the need for and feasibility of a Web-based alternative with significantly less risk to the “secret ballot.”
  • We believe that the Pilot’s method does not make Internet voting completely safe or secure for general use.
  • We believe that the Pilot’s method does not make Internet voting completely safe or secure for UOCAVA voters.
  • We believe that the Pilot’s method does address some security issues of current email voting, but does not attempt to address all security issues of email voting, or all security issues of Internet usage.
  • We believe that the Pilot project will create a publicly documented worked example that can be used for concrete evaluation of the Internet risks and ballot-secrecy benefits; an evaluation that should be part of consideration of whether or not any form of digital VBM methods are appropriate for continued use for UOCAVA voters.
  • We believe that the worked-example benefit will be strongly supported by the Pilot project’s pre-election public review period for anyone to try the system, to examine, probe, and assess not only the technology but also its deployment and usage.
  • We believe that the worked-example benefit will be strongly supported by a public post-election out-brief.
  • We believe that the transparency of the Pilot will be strongly supported by system’s software being available for use independent of the DC pilot, including, but not limited to, the existing TrustTheVote Project software for election administration and ballot design, which is one of our key contributions to the project.
  • We believe that much of the digital ballot technology can be dual use, applying to both UOCAVA vote-by-mail and overseas kiosk-based voting.

These statements are specific to U.S. election practices and laws, especially about U.S. military and overseas voters. We certainly respect that other countries have different needs, practices, and capabilities, and in general, a very different election landscape than in the U.S., with its 50+ different state election codes, thousands of election administration jurisdictions, dozens of electoral districts for each individual voter, and a significant portion of the electorate that must vote remotely.

Lastly, an important caveat: these are positions, opinions, and beliefs only of the OSDV Foundation; we do not advocate on behalf of any other organization; as a non-profit public benefits corporation we cannot directly lobby any public agency or institution for any policy or regulatory change. That stated, we certainly can and will continue to opine here and elsewhere, but as always our focus is on the application of technology in the administering of public elections.


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