Study rejects 'remote Internet voting'

An NSF study concludes that voting from home or work via the Internet is too risky

The results are in, and voting from home or office via computers and the Internet is a loser.

A study by the National Science Foundation concluded that the most convenient kind of Internet voting—ballots cast using computers at home or work—should not be used because it poses a "significant risk to the integrity of the voting process."

Although "remote Internet voting" would maximize convenience for voters, it is riddled with security problems, the NSF said in a report March 6.

Problems are numerous, ranging from high-tech fraud to more mundane matters such as properly identifying voters and preventing spouses or employers from influencing votes.

Registering voters over the Internet poses a special threat, NSF warns, noting "a high risk of automated fraud" in the form of "undetected registration of large numbers of phony voters."

But not all forms of Internet voting should be shunned.

NSF recommends experimenting with "poll site Internet voting" in which voters would use computers at polling places to cast their votes. Benefits include greater convenience—citizens could vote from any polling place and vote tallying would be faster and more error-free.

And security risks that plague remote Internet voting would be minimized because election officials control the voting machines and the physical environment of the polling place.

Kiosk voting via the Internet also is promising, although more problems remain to be solved. Voting kiosks could be set up in libraries, schools, shopping malls and other public places to make voting more convenient. Kiosks, too, could be controlled by election officials, reducing the opportunity for fraud and intimidation. However, kiosks raise questions about how to authenticate voters electronically, NSF said.

When the NSF study was ordered by President Clinton in December 1999, the main interest in Internet voting was convenience. However, since the November 2000 election, with its misread ballots and court-challenged results, the public's concern has focused on reliability, the NSF reported.

"Internet voting is not a cure-all for problems with currently used voting technology," the report said.

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