Mobile technology can improve voting data, but security concerns remain

By Todd Wasserman, on

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Voting data could go mobile, but not this year or anytime soon — at least in the way you might imagine.

Despite all the hoopla around this year’s presidential election, Pew Research Center has reported that more than 45 percent of Americans don’t vote in presidential elections. Some blame the low turnout on the fact that Election Day is on a Tuesday, a workday. There is a movement to move the day to the weekend instead, available for review at Congress.gov.

Another idea is to let citizens use their smartphones to vote. After all, close to 70 percent of Americans have smartphones, Pew Research Center noted in another report. Why not make voting as easy as hailing an Uber?

Security

Several municipalities have toyed with the idea of internet-based voting data. In each case, the process proved too hard to properly secure. In 2010, the District of Columbia developed such a system that was designed for absentee voters. To test its security, the creators of the system asked hackers to penetrate it. USA Today reported that they did so within 24 hours.

Nevertheless, internet-based voting is an option in about 30 states for service members voting through an absentee ballot. Such voters were required to sign a form “saying they understand that by using the system, their ballot may not be secret,” Verified Voting’s Pamela Smith told USA Today.

“We do not know how to build an internet voting system that has all of the security and privacy and transparency and verifiability properties that a national security application like voting has to have,” David Jefferson, a researcher at the Center for Applied Scientific Computing at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and vice chairman of the board of directors at Verified Voting, told The Daily Dot. In particular, one of the problems with online voting is that checking to see whether a vote was cast correctly would mean compromising a citizen’s privacy.

For an act as important and vulnerable as voting, there’s just too much at risk. For instance, a virus could take over consumers’ phones, or a hostile foreign government could hack into the results. Rogue hackers in the US could also hack the results or launch a denial-of-service attack on Election Day.

A hybrid approach

Few think those issues could be sorted out by 2020, which is too bad. Smartphone-based voting could cut costs, lure disenfranchised voters and provide valuable voter data after an election.

In lieu of a smartphone-based approach, some are looking into updating the antiquated paper ballot machines used to cast votes. For instance, design firm Ideo recently updated some voting booths in Los Angeles with touchscreen-operated tablets, according to CBS News. In a nod to voters who would prefer to think over their choice in the privacy of their homes, the system also lets people pre-vote using their computer or smartphone. When they’re done, they can bring in a paper slip that can be scanned into a voting machine. LA County hopes to pilot those machines in 2018.

About The Author

Todd Wasserman

Technology Journalist

A veteran journalist, Todd has held a variety of roles including business editor at Mashable and editor-in-chief of Brandweek. He now writes full time about technology, marketing and advertising, among other topics.

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