Voting By Cell Phone Is A Terrible Idea, And West Virginia Is Probably The Last State That Should Try It Anyway

from the industrialized-incompetence dept

So we've kind of been over this. For more than two decades now we've pointed out that electronic voting is neither private nor secure. We've also noted that despite this several-decade long conversation, many of the vendors pushing this solution are still astonishingly-bad at not only securing their products, but acknowledging that nearly every reputable security analyst and expert has warned that it's impossible to build a secure fully electronic voting system, and that if you're going to to do so anyway, at the very least you need to include a paper trail system that's not accessible via the internet.

Having apparently learned nothing, reports emerged this week that West Virginia is considering launching an initiative that would let some state residents vote via cellphone. To be clear, the effort initially appears focused on letting troops stationed overseas vote. Not surprisingly, more than a few folks were quick to highlight to CNN how this would be an arguably terrible idea:

"Mobile voting is a horrific idea," Joseph Lorenzo Hall, the chief technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology, told CNN in an email. "It's internet voting on people's horribly secured devices, over our horrible networks, to servers that are very difficult to secure without a physical paper record of the vote."

Marian K. Schneider, president of the election integrity watchdog group Verified Voting, was even more blunt. Asked if she thought mobile voting is a good idea, she said, "The short answer is no."

Given security analysts routinely aren't sure whether or not our existing voting systems may have been compromised by actors foreign and/or domestic, and the federal government just got done making it clear election security isn't a priority with an idiotically-partisan vote, it seems like a pretty terrible time to begin trying to implement new online voting efforts. And if you've watched West Virginia's blistering corruption when it comes to sectors like the telecom industry, the state is probably the last state in the union that should be attempting such a voting system overhaul.

Judging from online conversations, the company that's building the new West Virginia system (Voatz) may not be the best choice either, since it doesn't appear capable of securing its own website:

Comforting. Ideally, the system would involve a user first registering by taking a photo of their government-issued ID and a selfie-video of their face, which are then registered via the app. Voatz claims the company's facial recognition software will then ensure the photo and video submitted are of the same person, with users then able to cast their ballot using the Voatz app. Documents the company circulates at trade shows indicate the company utilizes the blockchain to ensure its systems are more secure and "fundamentally different than touchscreen or online voting." But the company has failed to clarify how.

There's roughly a million and one ways this entire process could go to hell, from SS7 vulnerabilities to man in the middle attacks everywhere along the chain between your device and the Voatz database. And if there's not a hard paper trail, it opens the door to any number of undetectable changes that could happen during transit. Of course this has all been repeatedly stated countless times over the last few decades, but it's a message that's still not apparently getting through.

Filed Under: blockchain, e-voting, electronic voting, mobile voting, security, west virginia
Companies: voatz

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread

  1. icon
    Thad (profile), 8 Aug 2018 @ 4:05pm


    The web was largely decentralized and interests splintered into separate communities, and lo, it was good.

    Then came the centralized services—the silos, if you will.

    I fear it's more dire than that.

    A lot of people came from silos -- the closed, proprietary online networks of the 1990s, chiefly AOL (I was a Prodigy kid myself) --, decided the open Internet was a much better value proposition...and then changed their minds a decade later and decided nah, let's go back to AOL's way of doing things, because it's easier and everybody else is doing it.

    Mastodon represents the first major step in going back to what we had before—decentralized communities on separate platforms—while allowing people to choose whether they want to bridge those communities together via federation.

    Yeah, we've talked about Mastodon before; here's what I said the other day:

    I've never used Mastodon (when have you ever known me to keep a post under 500 characters?), but from what I've read I'm very impressed with its design. I think a series of smaller, (optionally) interlinked social networks makes a lot more sense than a single, large provider, and is a good solution to the moderation problem (good moderation doesn't scale; a single giant service with millions of users will never have effective moderation, but a series of smaller networks with their own individual rules and moderation teams can).

    And that's without even getting into the clear superiority of open platforms over proprietary ones.

    I read a good piece at Computing the other day called Decentralising the web: Maintaining the momentum. There are certainly some promising ideas out there, and in some cases (like Mastodon) the technology is already there; in other cases we're talking about protocol-level changes that could take decades (how's that IPv6 rollout going, guys?). And aside from the technology is the perhaps-even-more-difficult problem of changing people's attitudes so that they learn to value open, distributed platforms again.

    We're definitely seeing some backlash against Facebook and Twitter right now; I used Budweiser-versus-microbreweries as my example a couple posts up, but the truth is Facebook and Twitter are far more vulnerable than Budweiser is. (Anheuser-Busch InBev has never lost 20% of its value in a single day.) That's good. But there's a gap between people getting fed up with the big corporate social networks and people changing their attitudes so that they choose smaller, independently-run social networks. It doesn't help much if people quit Facebook and go to Instagram.

    I think we're talking about changing people's priorities and values here. I think it's possible. I even think the answer is simple. But simple isn't the same thing as easy, and changing the way the general public thinks about the Internet is a difficult problem indeed.

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter

Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Insider Shop - Show Your Support!

Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads


Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.