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Alabamians can express political opinions, donate to candidates and register to vote via the internet.

So why shouldn't citizens cast ballots online?

In an effort to get more ballots in boxes, states and nations have looked to technology to bring more voters to the polls. Or in the case of online voting, bring the polls to the voters.

However, state election officials and security experts warn that the risks of online voting vastly outweigh any potential reward.

“I don’t want to ever see that happen. I’m not in favor of that at all,” said Don Milligan, president of the Alabama Association of Boards of Registrars. “You open yourself up to way too much voter fraud.”

There’s a reason for the mistrust.

In 2010, the District of Columbia conduc

During a testing period open to the public, University of Michigan Center for Computer Security and Society director Alex Halderman and his team immediately hacked the system, casting the future of web-based voting into doubt.

“Within 36 hours of the system going live, our team had found and exploited a vulnerability that gave us almost total control of the server software, including the ability to change votes and reveal voters’ secret ballots,” Halderman wrote in a 2010 report.

Utah's state Republican party made headlines for offering online voting in 2016, but the initiative fell flat. The Guardian reported up to 13,000 were prevented from signing up due to technical errors and that similar issues caused a delay in publication of the final results.

Estonia is most often looked to as a bellwether of online voting success and pitfalls.

The nation first offered “i-Voting” to all citizens in 2005, and the system is just one facet of a digital, cloud-based government, which offers 99 percent of its services online.

“E-services are only impossible for marriages, divorces and real-estate transactions – you still have to get out of the house for those,” reads Estonia’s e-government website.

Estonians can vote anywhere in the world provided they have their cryptographic government ID card and card reader or mobile ID verification app. Those measures work to ensure identities aren’t compromised, but a 2014 study by Halderman and others — “Security Analysis of the Estonian Internet Voting System" — recommended a discontinuation of the system after vulnerabilities were identified in a mock i-Voting system built for the study.

“Based on our tests, we conclude that a state-level attacker, sophisticated criminal, or dishonest insider could defeat both the technological and procedural controls in order to manipulate election outcomes. Short of this, there are abundant ways that such an attacker could disrupt the voting process or cast doubt on the legitimacy of results,” the study reads.

There’s also a question of if online voting increases voter turnout.

Between 25-30 percent of Estonians vote online, according to the Estonian e-government site, but several studies, including one conducted by Central European University political scientist Daniel Bochsler, have found that providing online access did not notably increase voter participation.

Bochsler said any bumps in turnout were tied to increased political activity in certain areas and that, for the most part, those voting online were the same voters who had previously traveled to the polls.

“10 years ago, both politicians and academics believed that the internet (would) revitalize democracy and boost political participation. Today we know, also based on insights from Canada or Switzerland, that we should not expect a miracle in terms of turnout,” Bochsler said via email.

Alabama has not turned its nose at advancements in election systems technology.

The state began offering online voter registration in 2016. Secretary of State John Merrill hopes to have digital poll check-in in all 67 counties by 2022 — it’s currently offered in 25 — and Merrill said the state was the first to offer electronic delivery and return of ballots for military members overseas, although its unknown how much that affected military voting totals.

Alabama has more voters registered and more ballots being cast than ever before, but for a state that saw a third of its registered voters decline to participate in the 2016 general election, there’s room to increase participation at the polls.

Merrill doesn't see online voting as the answer, calling it "unnecessary," but some states have seemingly accomplished the aims of digital voting with more traditional tools.

Colorado, Oregon and Washington automatically mail paper ballots to registered voters, and positive results have other states such as California considering following suit.

In the case of Colorado, universal vote-by-mail was implemented in 2013 after about 70 percent of citizens requested absentee ballots be sent to them in the 2012 election season, said Amber McReynolds, who was director of elections for Denver at the time.

The mail-in ballots are automatically sent to each registered voter and can be returned via mail, 24-hour drop boxes or the Election Day polls themselves.

As a result, citizens can vote from home and research candidates and amendments more thoroughly, and McReynolds credits the change for Colorado seeing its highest ever turnout in 2016 (76 percent).

Mail-in voting has also decreased the cost-per-vote for the state, McReynolds said, and because of the continued use of paper ballots and post-election audits, Colorado was called the "safest place to cast a ballot" this year.

"For right now, our best option to ensure everybody has equal opportunity to the voting system, and also one that is secure, is automatic ballot delivery right to their home," said McReynolds, now executive director for the National Vote at Home Institute. "We know when you make a process easier for a customer, they will likely engage with that process. That's why this matters."

McReynolds said that for a state like Alabama, which still requires an excuse for citizens to receive absentee ballots, the first step may be to remove that requirement and create a permanent absentee voter list where citizens can request to have ballots automatically mailed to them each election.

"That would then allow Alabama to see if voters like this," McReynolds said.

Merrill showed hesitation when asked about the possibility of mail-in ballots in Alabama, saying that the five voter fraud convictions he has seen since being elected in 2014 involved absentee ballots.

Still, with a mind toward "making it easier to vote and harder to cheat," Merrill said the state could potentially look at universal vote-by-mail in the future.

"We want to continue to evaluate each new initiative introduced to us," Merrill said. "Just because another state is doing it and having success doing it doesn’t mean it’s something we even need to consider, but it is something we want to look at."

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Autor(en)/Author(s): Andrew J. Yawn

Quelle/Source: Montgomery Advertiser, 02.11.2018

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