California Secretary of State Bill Jones
A Report on the Feasibility of Internet Voting
Despite these challenges, it is technologically possible to utilize the Internet to develop an additional method of voting that would be at least as secure from vote-tampering as the current absentee ballot process in California. At this time, it would not be legally, practically or fiscally feasible to develop a comprehensive remote Internet voting system that would completely replace the current paper process used for voter registration, voting, and the collection of initiative, referendum and recall petition signatures.
To achieve the goal of providing voters with the opportunity to cast their ballots at any time from any place via the Internet, this task force believes that the elections process would be best served by a strategy of evolutionary rather than revolutionary change. This report defines four distinct Internet voting models and the corresponding technical and design requirements that must be met when implementing any of the stages.
One of the most difficult tasks for an Internet voting system is the authentication of voters. To ensure that every voter has the opportunity to cast a ballot and no voter is able to vote more than one time, this task force believes election officials should initially test Internet Voting technology through the use of Internet Voting machines that are under the direct control of election personnel in traditional polling places.
Eventually, election officials can transition toward allowing voters to cast ballots at publicly accessible county-controlled kiosks or computers and, in the future, provide the option of remote computer voting from any computer with Internet access.
If remote Internet voting is eventually adopted, this task force believes that current technology requires that it initially be modeled on the current absentee ballot process in California. Although the procedures used to request an Internet ballot in this model would be more cumbersome than traditional e-commerce transactions, it is the only way to tie the authentication of voters from the existing paper voter registration system to the electronic arena at this time.
We believe that additional technical innovations are necessary before remote Internet voting can be widely implemented as a useful tool to improve participation in the elections process in California. However, current technology would allow for the implementation of new voting systems that would allow voters to cast a ballot over the Internet from a computer at any one of a number of county-controlled polling places in a county.
As with most computer systems, increased security and higher levels of privacy can be provided by increasing the complexity and the burden on the user of the system. The success or failure of Internet voting in the near-term may well depend on the ability of computer programmers and election officials to design a system where the burden of the additional duties placed on voters does not outweigh the benefits derived from the increased flexibility provided by the Internet voting system.
The democratic process warrants an extremely high level of security,
but the security measures can not be so cumbersome to voters that the new
process would prevent participation. An appropriate balance between security,
accessibility and ease of use must be achieved before Internet voting systems
should be deployed.
Task Force Composition
The chairman of the Task Force was Alfred Charles, Assistant Secretary of State for eGovernment. David Jefferson, Systems Engineer for Compaq Computers, was appointed to serve as Chair of the Technical Issues Committee. And Linda Valenty, Assistant Professor of Political Science at San Jose State University was appointed to Chair the Practical Issues Committee.
Task Force Chair
Secretary of State
Palo Alto, CA
Linda O. Valenty, PhD
Policy Issues Chair
Assistant Professor of Political Science
San Jose State University
Redwood City, CA
California Voter Foundation
California Institute of Technology
Sacramento County Elections
Silicon Valley Software Industry Coalition
League of Women Voters
Assemblyman Jim Cunneen
San Jose, CA
County of Santa Clara
San Jose, CA
Draper, Fisher, Jurvetson
Redwood City, CA
Secretary of State
San Diego County Registrar of Voters
San Diego, CA
Secretary of State
The Howard Agency
Global Election Systems
Assembly Elections Committee
Assemblyman Jim Cunneen
Secretary of State
What is Internet Voting
Under the phased-in implementation approach recommended by this task force, voters could use the Internet to cast ballots initially from a traditional polling place, but eventually they would be able to vote electronically from a remote location, such as a public Internet Voting kiosk or the voterÂ’s home or office.
While implementation of Polling Place Internet Voting would be similar in many ways to the implementation of existing electronic voting systems, the implementation of Remote Internet Voting would require numerous technical and procedural innovations to ensure accurate voter authentication, ballot secrecy and security.
Until all potential voters have access to a unique form of electronic identification, election officials will be unable to develop a digital voter roll that eventually could be used to authenticate voters for voting purposes, allow Internet voter registration or digitally sign petitions for use in the initiative, referendum and recall process.
In light of these shortcoming (and others) that prevent a total replacement of the current paper-based voting systems, this task force recommends that Internet Voting Systems should strive to provide an additional method of voting that would give voters increased opportunities to cast their ballot. The task force has used the California absentee ballot as a model for the design of a Remote Internet Ballot.
We recommend that any use of the Internet for voting purposes should be phased-in gradually to ensure that election officials and members of the public are confident in the technology.
Early American elections were conducted by such rudimentary methods as a show of hands and the depositing of beans and/or grain into a box to indicate voter preference. For much of the 19th century, ballots were printed and pre-marked by political parties. The voter was essentially just a conduit for the straight ticket voting demands of the party.
In 1888, the first "Australian Secret Ballot" was adopted in Massachusetts. The "Australian Ballot" is an official ballot printed at public expense on which the names of all nominated candidates appear. It is distributed only at the polling place and voted in secret. California adopted the "Australian Ballot" in 1891.
Since that time, numerous other revisions to the voting process have taken place, the most recent of which include the adoption of postcard mail-in voter registration, vote-by-mail absentee ballots and the recent approval of computerized touch-screen voting systems.
Early voting machines were used to ensure accuracy of the count and prevent election official errors and official misconduct. Thomas Edison invented the first election machine in 1869. Since that time, various voting systems have been approved, implemented, revised and rejected.
The predominant voting technology implemented by county election offices today is the use of punch cards. Long ballots and the logistical complexities of moving thousands of machines to polling places for each election prompted counties to switch from large voting machines to the smaller, more flexible punch-card systems.
To help improve the voting experience and reduce the cost associated with printing paper ballot cards, electronic voting systems have recently been approved and are now being deployed in various voting jurisdictions.
With the proliferation of new technology designed to improve efficiency in virtually every aspect of daily life, members of the voting public and political scientists are now focussing on ways to make the voting process more accessible and substantially less complex for both the voter and the election official.
By simplifying the election process and providing increased access to voting locations, we should be able to draw more people into the democratic process.
In California, county officials conduct the day-to-day functions of the election process. The Secretary of State is the Chief Elections Officer and is charged with general oversight of the California Elections Code.
The Secretary of State is responsible for maintaining a "List of Approved Election Systems" that counties must consult prior to purchasing and implementing election hardware and software. Currently, nine different election systems are used by various counties throughout the state Â– ranging from optical scanning systems to punch cards.
Electronic voting systems, including systems that utilize touch-screen technology, have also been approved and have recently been implemented on a limited basis in select counties.
The use of the Internet for voting in official state and local government-sanctioned elections in California could be implemented in some instances with the certification of an election system by the Secretary of State. For the more advanced stages of remote Internet voting, three stages of government approval may be required: 1) The State Legislature would have to amend the elections code to adapt the current paper-ballot voting requirements to the electronic voting and vote tabulation process, 2) The Secretary of State would need to review and certify specific election systems for use by county election offices, and 3) County officials would have to agree to purchase and implement the new Internet voting systems once they appear on the Secretary of StateÂ’s list of Approved Election Systems.
Comprehensive vs. Incremental Approaches to Internet
The use of the Internet Voting system in this scenario would be optional
for voters , thus creating the potential for increased participation without
creating any barriers to those who do not have access to or a comfort level
with Internet technology.
A voter would then be able to use that digital signature to request and vote an Internet ballot.
A comparison between the paper absentee ballot process and a potential Remote Internet Voting system is demonstrated in the diagram below:
Paper Absentee Ballot Process
Each stage outlined below increases accessibility to Internet voting,
but also creates additional challenges for election officials.
Stage Three: Remote Internet Voting From County Computers or Kiosks
The task force finds that the development of a comprehensive Internet election system which would allow voters to conduct every step of the voting process over the Internet is not feasible at this time. The technical and procedural hurdles to producing such a broad ranging service at this time would be enormous.
This task force recommends that use of the Internet in elections should be phased-in gradually. The task force defines four different stages in the evolution toward Internet voting.
Each of the four stages of Internet voting are designed to provide greater convenience to voters, but each step also poses increasingly daunting technological and security concerns.
Some of the technical and security issues include:
The first stage of Internet Voting would allow voters to cast either an Internet ballot or a traditional paper ballot at their polling place. County election officials would be responsible providing secure Internet access in the polling place.
Essentially, at this step, Internet Voting will simply be a more complex form of the currently available electronic voting systems. ItÂ’s primary value is in the early testing of technology that could eventually be used to allow voters to cast ballots from remote locations.
Who Is Served
Allows for the development and testing of the basic elements of an Internet Voting System that can eventually be used to allow Remote Internet Voting.
Voters are authenticated with traditional polling place protocolsÂ—technological authentication of voters is not necessary.
Stage One may be approved through the Secretary of State certification
of an election system and may not require legislative authorization.
Counties will incur substantial costs for the purchase of Internet Voting Machines/Computers.
Technical expertise will be needed to set-up, maintain, operate and
eventually disassemble Internet voting machines.
All Internet Voting Machines must be protected against denial of service
attacks which could threaten the voterÂ’s access to their ballot or their
ability to transmit their ballot back to the elections office.
*Prior to Voting*
Who Is Served
New voting locations can be established at easily accessible locations such as malls, busy downtown office centers, universities, etc.
Counties will incur substantial costs for the purchase or lease of Internet Voting Machines/Computers.
Technical expertise will be needed to set-up, maintain, operate and eventually disassemble Internet voting machines.
Additional training will be required to ensure that poll workers are
able to authenticate voters and provide the correct ballot style to voters
from different precincts.
All Internet Voting Machines must be protected against denial of service attacks which could threaten the voterÂ’s access to their ballot or their ability to transmit their ballot back to the elections office.
The additional method of voting outside the voterÂ’s home polling place
will make it more difficult to verify individual voters and check against
*Prior to Voting*
Who Is Served
Counties can borrow equipment and refer voters to numerous secure computers with Internet Access to improve the quantity and availability of voting locations.
Voters can vote near their home, workplace or school at any time.
Stage Three provides election officials with the opportunity to test
the remote Internet voting authentication processes that will be used in
subsequent stages of Internet voting.
Voter education and training is critical for the success of Stage Three Internet Voting. Since voters may have technical difficulties, it will be important to have readily available technical assistance.
The process is more complex than most common Internet commerce transactions and may not be viewed as much more convenient for voters than current voting options.
Counties must develop a process for providing eligible voters with an
electronic means of authenticating themselves to ensure that voters are
able to access their ballot, but must also ensure that voters can only
cast one ballot.
The authentication system must provide the public with assurances that only eligible voters will be able to obtain and vote a ballot.
Counties must verify the hand-written signature on each voterÂ’s
Internet ballot request to the hand-written signature on the voterÂ’s registration
card before providing the voter with an authentication code.
*Prior to Voting*
The task force recommends that requests for Internet absentee ballots be made on paper and signatures should be verified against the paper voter registration card before Internet ballots and authenticating passwords or digital signatures are provided to voters.
Who Is Served
Voters can vote at any time of day from home, office or other location with Internet access.
The same computer voters use for studying ballot issues and candidates can also be used for voting.
Counties do not need to deploy Internet Voting Machines and support personnel throughout the community.
As in Stage Three, since no election official would be present during voting, the voter would have to manually request authorization for an Internet ballot through a paper request before voting.
It would be difficult to prevent political advertising from appearing on-screen and in the ballot window during voting if the voterÂ’s Internet Service Provider is one that displays advertising.
Voters must secure their platform: Voters would be inconvenienced by being required to "re-boot" the system in order to load a clean operating system to protect the computer against several types of electronic attack. Because of the clean operating system, voters may also have to reconfigure the computer to access their Internet Service Provider and return the computer to its original state after voting. This is considerably more complex than existing election procedures and is substantially more difficult that most Internet users experience in traditional Internet activities.
A large number of platforms need to be supported. There are many screens, video boards, key boards, mice, modems, network interfaces, and CD-ROM devices and, of course, both PCÂ’s and Apple Macintosh computers. The list will change quickly and will require the assistance of several major software and hardware companies and to remain current.
The market for voting software systems is relatively small. The development of complex Internet Voting software systems with numerous local variations capable of running on various machines and device configurations for a comparatively small-sized market may prove to be cost-prohibitive for either the vendor or the county.
Computers owned by third parties (neither the voter nor the elections officials) may be much more difficult to secure than home computers because they may reside behind industrial firewalls, they may be under the control of system administrators and they may not be suitable for their traditional business use when they are configured for voting purposes.
Institutional personal computers may be remotely monitored or controlled, possibly compromising ballot secrecy and/or integrity.
It will be essentially impossible offer phone support to help voters who have technical difficulties voting from institutional computers.
Vendors should prepare and counties will need to distribute an extensive
instruction sheet for voters.
There are a wide variety of computers, devices and Internet Service Providers (ISPÂ’s) in the marketplace that must be supported by any home or office Internet Voting software. It is extremely complex to develop software that not only works securely, but also can be operational on many different platforms.
The variety of home networking options is large and changing fast. Home local area networks, Internet connections that act like LANs, home firewalls and other unique systems create security complications that must be taken into account by software developers.
Voters working from the office, or other third-party controlled equipment, must assume, with no real way of checking that the computer is running standard software and is in a standard networking/Internet environment.
Depending on the institution involved, the computer may be controlled by remote control or monitoring software. If these types of software are present, ballot integrity and secrecy could be easily compromised.
Firewalls may prevent voting from some institutions and voters may be
unaware of this limitation until they are prepared to cast their ballot.
*Prior to Voting*
To protect against an attack, voters would be asked to take some form of security steps to minimize risk. The complexity of such steps may be simple or complex, but may include the installation of a clean, uncorrupted operating system and/or a clean Internet browser to ensure that the voter is not subject to browser-based advertising or electioneering during the voting process.
Although this step would not be necessary for voters using a secure Internet voting kiosk maintained by the county elections office, it is very important for voters using home computers.
However, Internet voting, if implemented would do more than simply ease the method of qualifying to vote, it would make the act of voting easier for anyone who has access to the Internet. Here then we may see an increase in voter turnout based upon the combined approaches of easier voter registration ("motor voter") and more efficient voting procedures.
Since two major groups of low-propensity voters --- those who are young 18-25 year old students or busy professionals who do not find the time to participate are also two of the more Internet savvy segments of the population, we anticipate that the introduction of Internet Voting, specifically remote Internet Voting, would provide a positive effect on turnout.
Use of the Internet is Continuing to Increase and Home Use May Eventually Rival Use of the Telephone and Television
Many pundits are predicting that the Internet will have an impact on the political process that will rival the effect television has had on our elections. If the impact of the Internet on elections is roughly similar to the impact the Internet has had on commerce, then the results would indeed be staggering. The University f Texas estimated that approximately $102 billion in US revenue was transacted over the Internet in 1998. This number is projected to reach $1.1 trillion in the year 2002.
As the public looks to the Internet to provide convenience in commerce and in preparing for elections, it appears likely that given the opportunity to vote on a secure, trusted system, many people who are eligible to vote would cast their ballots on-line. It is also reasonable to assume that many people who use the Internet today, but have not historically participated in the election process may be attracted to participating in an on-line election.
Similar to the way in which the ceremonial gathering of neighbors in
a suburban garage prompts people to wander down the street to vote, an
on-line election would create a major Internet event that may prompt regular
Internet users to participate, if for no other reason than it is the major
happening in the cyber-world for that day, week or month.
One of the primary factors that could limit the widespread acceptance of Internet voting in the immediate future is the availability of Internet access to the voting public. To ensure equity for all eligible voters, election officials should ensure that computer ownership and Internet access are not insurmountable barriers to Internet voting.
Deployment of Internet technology worldwide has taken place much more rapidly than the deployment of technologies that are considered to be ubiquitous today. For example Morgan Stanley Technology Research reports that it took 38 years from introduction for the radio to gain acceptance and be adopted by 50 million users. It took 30 years for the telephone, 16 years for the personal computer and 13 years for the television, each to be adopted by 50 million users. The Internet reached 50 million users in only 4 years.
In the US, the home has been the main point of Internet access since 1994, followed by the workplace. By the end of 1997, 42% of US households had a home-PC and about 22% had Internet access at home. [Source: Dataquest and The Yankee Group]. The user base is shifting away from the technologically advanced early adopters and becoming more representative of the population as a whole. Two main factors are responsible for this shift [Source: IDC and Dataquest]:
A December 1999 survey conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California reported that only 20.3 percent of California households with an income under $20,000 had frequent (often) access to the Internet. In the $20,000-$39,999 income bracket, 31.2 percent of households accessed the Internet and/or email often. By contrast, more than 72 percent of households with an income in excess of $80,000 enjoyed similar Internet access.
Projected American Households with Internet Access (Millions)
(Source: Dataquest and The Yankee Group)
As the chart above depicts, there are steady growth projections for the number of households with computer devices (24.8% growth; 1999 Â– 2003); and significant growth projected for the number of households with Internet access (102.3% growth; 1999 Â– 2003). This growth reflects an increase in the percentage of US households with Internet access from 30.2% in 1999 to 58.4% in 2003.
In addition, there has been a steady increase in the proportion of users
accessing from the workplace only, driven by the rapid expansion of Intranets.
There has been an even more rapid increase in the proportion using the
Internet only from "other" (indirect) locations - such as schools, libraries
and friends' homes. By mid-1998, 58% of all adult Internet users had access
from home - a proportion that has fallen from 75% in 1994. By 2005, it
is forecast, just over 95% of PC-owning households in the U.S. will have
direct or indirect Internet access.
Public Access to Internet Connectivity Should Be Made Available in Counties that Adopt Internet Voting Systems
Until such time as Internet connectivity becomes nationally ubiquitous some form of reasonable access should exist for those voters without connectivity in their homes or places of work. Programs that could increase Internet voting access could include the following:
Alternatively, computers installed in publicly accessible facilities may be an acceptable solution to provide access for members of the voting public who do not otherwise have access to an Internet connection. Such publicly accessible facilities may include but not necessarily be limited to the following: elementary or secondary schools; public libraries; public housing centers; Employment Development Department job centers; National Guard centers; university, college and community college libraries. All such facilities are or soon will be equipped with computers and Internet connectivity, but not all may be appropriate as Internet polling places.
Facilities where computers are installed for administrative, operational or educational purposes may not be accessible to the public or appropriate as polling places. However, computers installed for the purpose of providing access to reference or research material may be appropriate for use as Internet Voting machines that can be made available to the public.
If computers in public facilities are to be used as Internet Voting machines consideration must be given to ensuring the privacy of the voter. Precinct polling locations in a traditional non-Internet election provide polling booths with curtains or other physical barriers to protect voter privacy. Similar devices should be employed when Internet Voting machines are located in open areas and are visually accessible from the front and/or sides to protect the voterÂ’s privacy from the infringement of others.
Eventually, when remote Internet Voting is available, physical voting privacy should also be protected at any location where voters may be casting their ballots, including workplace computers or computers that may be regularly monitored by security cameras.
Characteristics of an Internet Voter
The task force is unable to specifically quantify the effect that the various stages of Internet Voting might have on voter turnout, but we are encouraged that many of the individuals who are least likely to participate in the current elections process are also the most likely to use the Internet.
The Federal Elections Commission reports that the age group that is least likely to vote is the group aged 18-24. During the 1996 elections, less than one-third of 18-24 year olds cast a ballot for president. By contrast, in that same election more than 54 percent of the overall population went to the polls.
In part due to the availability of the Internet in schools, Internet access among that same 18-24 age group is considerably higher than the rest of the population. The Public Policy Institute of California reports that 73 percent of 18-24 year old Californians either often or sometimes have access to the Internet and email.
Another likely beneficiary of the increased convenience afforded by Internet Voting is the occasional voter who neglects to participate due to a busy schedule and tight time constraints. If voting is made more accessible for these voters during the course of their already hectic days, they might be more likely to participate.
Unfortunately, the benefits gained by providing Internet Voting access to these voting groups may be negated by the cumbersome process and advanced planning that would be required to ensure a secure and secret remote Internet ballot as described in this report.
These benefits are most likely to be realized if and when a simplified
form of digital identification is universally available that would allow
the entire voting process to take place over the Internet, from registration
Â– to Internet ballot request Â– to voting.
Public Acceptance of Internet Voting
It appears that younger voters would be more likely to participate in our elections than they do today if they are given the opportunity to vote over the Internet. The December 1999 survey from the California Public Policy Institute shows that younger voters are more likely to have Internet access and more likely to support Internet Voting than older voters. (Appendix B)
That assumption is further confirmed by a July, 1999 ABC News poll which showed that 61 percent of potential voters aged 18 to 34 would be willing to vote over the Internet if it could be made secure, whereas 42 percent of the overall population expressed a similar comfort level with secure internet voting.
Although the ABC News poll finds that 24% of Americans believe that Internet voting "could be made secure from fraud anytime in the near future," fully 69% of all Americans think that making Internet voting secure from fraud will take "many years" or will "never happen." Further, 60% of all 18-34 year olds agree, stating that it will be "many years" before Internet voting will be secure.
However, we may see slightly more support for Internet voting in California,
as the ABC News polling data show that 50% of those in the West support
Internet voting if it could be made secure, and 27% in the West believe
that it could be made secure from fraud "in the near future."
The gradual implementation of Internet Voting recommended by the task force will help ease the transition for those who may be concerned about the new technology. The retention of the paper ballot process should also guarantee voters who are uncomfortable with the new technology that they will still have access to their preferred alternative method of voting.
The Polling Place Internet Voting system described in Stages One and Two of this report may serve as more than just a trial run to determine cost, and potential problems, but could also help to acclimate the older population and reassure Californians in general that vote security and voter secrecy are not insurmountable problems, but rather have been dealt with in a trustworthy and professional manner. The ability to conduct audits of the Internet vote would be crucial to building this public trust.
Need for voter education regarding the integrity, security, and privacy of Internet voting.
Accordingly, the public must be kept apprised of the manner by which the Internet is protected from outside influences, including national and international hackers as well as individual voters who might try to cast more than one ballot. Additionally, it is imperative that all voters are assured that their right to a secret ballot is protected and guarded jealously by government officials who themselves are kept aware of who has voted, but purposely are kept ignorant how individuals vote. This then is the fine line that those who administer Internet voting must walk Â– audits must be possible, fraud must be impossible, and the secrecy of ballots must be ensured.
The administration of the Internet voting process by election officials should be observable by the public and interested parties.
To continue to ensure voter trust and the legitimacy of governments
elected with Internet votes, all levels of the Internet voting process
must be observable and observed by the public and interested parties. Additionally,
official monitoring should be implemented to speak to the authenticity
of the resulting vote.
Important Design Elements
All voting systems must include several design elements to satisfy legal requirements and ensure the integrity of the election.
An Internet Voting system must ensure the following:
Electronic ballots provide opportunities to improve the efficiency of the voting process and include safeguards that could prevent voters from making common mistakes that force election officials to disregard their ballots. While many members of the Task Force believe that we should not intentionally incorporate the weaknesses of the paper ballot into the design of an electronic system, others are concerned that giving Internet voters a superior voting system would be unfair to voters who make mistakes on the paper ballots. It should be noted that solutions to some of the imperfections in the paper system have already been incorporated into electronic voting systems that have been approved by the California Secretary of State.