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Could We Make Voting Online as Easy as Ordering Pizza?

Updated: Feb 7

Election day is less than two weeks away. However, with the ongoing pandemic, casting your vote at a polling station, such a simple and common action, becomes much more difficult this year. Now that we have modern technology and the almighty Internet, shifting to online voting would not seem to have any difficulties. Besides, voting online would be much more convenient for voters and more organized for workers, making the entire voting process much more efficient. Despite all of these benefits, the idea of online voting has still not been adopted. Sedna is here to explain!


While the Internet enables plenty of convenience and opportunities, it also causes numerous security and privacy concerns. A matter as serious as voting mandates absolute accuracy, which the Internet isn’t yet capable of providing. Security flaws are hidden everywhere on the Internet, and this gives hackers the chance to alter the election result. In addition to reduced trustworthiness of results, voters’ privacy and the secrecy of the ballot will also be compromised.


The traditional way of voting has continued for many years without major mistakes. We could have never expected that a sudden pandemic would change our lives, so we had not thought of developing a centralized digital identity system for political uses that should be safe and strong enough to prevent all cyber attacks and ensure ballot integrity. Estonia, a tiny eastern European nation, has been employing electronic voting since 2005 and is the only country that provides online voting. The i-voting system requires citizens to own a government issued identification card, which contains citizens’ personal information for voting. By inserting the ID card into a card reader on a computer, citizens can cast their votes anywhere as long as it is on a computer with internet access. Approximately half of the population of Estonia is currently using the system for voting, and the number is steadily increasing.

After the pandemic, there may be a possibility that the government will consider developing a working system like Estonia’s to prevent a recurrence of today’s dilemma. Does that mean the U.S. will adopt online voting someday and be the second country to move voting online? Not so fast. In 2014, J.Alex Halderman, a cybersecurity expert, and his team conducted an analysis and found that there was a series of disturbing problems with Estonia’s system. According to their report, the operational security was inconsistent, and the software design of the system was too vulnerable to resist sabotage from foreign attackers. In addition to technical issues, people are already suspicious about the government's improper use of their data due to data breath incidents and decreased transparency. It would also be a big challenge to convince American citizens to willingly give the government access to their personal information for online voting.


While the Internet is already a dangerous place for voting, devices that people use for voting are also at high risk of being compromised. Even though antivirus software is generally effective at blocking most malware, it sometimes misses some new or emerging attacks. Among millions of devices, some of them are “botnets,” computers that hackers create by infecting a large number of poorly secured machines and compelling them to spread digital threats. If online voting becomes legitimate, voters’ privacy and election results will be inarguably jeopardized using botnets for voting.


Aside from security flaws and unsafe devices, hackers have ways to endanger the voting process and distort the election results. They could attack the ballot by tampering the fillable PDF file that voters need to download and editing votes after submission. They could also hack the election website through one of the code providers and edit multiple votes all at once. As mentioned earlier, the Internet is insecure, and its vulnerable design is a weakness that hackers would possibly exploit and hijack the internet traffic system to force data to take a different route. If hackers take this approach, they will have data sent to a forged server they design and send them back to the proper server after tampering the votes.

To make online voting a reality, a fully developed and secure “attestation” feature must be on voters’ devices. It is a feature that lets devices clarify their digital health to the third parties. Although Android and iOS are two renowned operating systems, their current attestation features are too vulnerable to support a critical process like voting. Plus, implementing attestation features on computers is vastly more challenging than on phones and tablets. To overcome these technical obstacles, it requires expensive and long-term collaboration between hardware and software makers. Online voting could be possible in the future, but it is definitely not something we will see in the 2020 election.


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