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Computer Scientists Issue Warning about Internet Voting PDF  | Print |  Email
September 11, 2008
A group of computer scientists and technology professionals has issued a statement warning that Internet voting is an idea whose time has not come.  Organized by David Dill, Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University and founder of, the statement cautions that elections conducted via the Internet cannot be verifiably accurate until “serious, potentially insurmountable technical challenges” are overcome. [The statement can be viewed here: ] Internet voting was used in a pilot in this year's primaries and pilots may occur in two states this November.

“Study after study by computer scientists has concluded that safe internet voting is a very hard technical problem, but politicians assume it’s easy,” said Dill.  “In this statement, we’re saying ‘This is going to be a disaster unless we think it through first.’”

Malicious software could change, fabricate, or delete votes cast over the Internet, as well as deceive or disenfranchise voters, the technologists warn.

“Voting is a different problem from online commerce” said Dill. “If I use a credit card over the internet, my name is on the order and I’ll get a statement at the end of the month with a list of charges.  But a secret ballot over the internet can’t have the voter’s name on it, by definition.  Verifying that votes are cast and counted as intended over the internet, without compromising ballot secrecy, is an extremely tricky technical problem that e-commerce doesn’t face.”

The technologists note that much of the momentum for Internet voting comes from the difficulty that overseas voters, especially those serving in the armed forces, experience in voting. The group offers alternatives, such as using the Internet to create a printed paper ballot, and extending the deadline for receipt of military and other overseas ballots.

“Americans serving in the military deserve every opportunity to cast a vote, but it does not enfranchise voters if the system allows their votes to be lost or stolen undetectably,” Dill said. “They deserve better.”

Initial signers of the Internet voting statement include: David Jefferson, a computer scientist at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory who chaired the technical committee of the first task force to study Internet voting (for the Secretary of State of California, in 1999); Bruce Schneier, one of the world's authorities on computer security and the author of the widely used security reference work Applied Cryptography; Douglas Jones, a computer scientist at the University of Iowa and an internationally recognized expert on electronic voting systems; as well as computer scientists from Princeton University, Stanford University, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and from the private sector. The statement is also the official position of Verified Voting on the question of Internet voting. Technologists interested in signing the statement should contact Professor Dill.
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