Is Electronic Voting Still a Current Topic?

By David Alan Grier

Is electronic voting still a topic of interest?  Before 8 October, the answer was clearly “No.”  The subject had clearly faded from public consciousness.  In the United States, the Federal Election Assistance Administration was quietly operating programs to develop and certify new voting equipment.  The CalTech-MIT program on electronic voting was no longer very active.  The events that had sparked interest in electronic voting, that began with the 2000 U. S. presidential election and continued through the 2010 successful hacking of the Washington DC voting system, were fading from thought.  However, on 8 October, the Atlantic Council, a Washington, D.C., think tank, held an event to announce that it had released a report on electronic voting.

By itself, the report offers little new. 1  Written by Atlantic Council staff, it generally rehashed ideas that had been developed over the past fifteen years.  It has only one reference that is dated after 2010 and compares poorly to a report that was prepared for the government of the Canadian province of British Columbia.2  If you want a current review of electronic and internet voting technologies, you should turn to the British Columbia Report and not the Atlantic Council paper.

Still, the Atlantic Council paper s offers at least a few small reminders that the topic of electronic voting should remain of interest to the public.  It notes that the problems of electronic voting have not been solved, that systems are still vulnerable to hacking and manipulation and that we may be 30 years from the point when we will have secure and private supervised internet voting and that we may never be able to trust unsupervised internet voting.  One of the panelists at the Atlantic Council event put the issue succinctly when he stated that voting systems need to be able to convince the losing candidates that they indeed lost fairly and honestly.

To establish strong democracies, especially in countries that have little experience with democratic processes, we need to have strong voting systems.  The current technologies of voting, from paper ballots to touch screen systems, cannot always make a completely convincing case that the losing parties indeed lost.    Therefore, the Atlantic Council is to be commended for its effort to keep the subject in front of the public.  Until we have robust and accurate voting systems, we need to discuss the subject of electronic voting in the public and among engineers, even if we have little new to say.

  1. Haynes, Peter, “Online voting, rewards and risks,” Atlantic Council, 2014, last accessed 10/10/2014
  2. “Report of the Independent Panel on Internet Voting,” Elections British Columbia, 2014, Last accessed 10/10/2014

David Alan Grier is a writer, author and speaker on issues of technology, society and organizations. He is a principal in the consulting firm Djaghe, LLC. He is Fellow of the IEEE, and was 2013 President of the IEEE Computer Society. He has been employed by the George Washington University in a variety of professorial and administrative roles. He is currently an associate professor in the Center for International Science & Technology Policy of the Elliott School of International Affairs.

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IEEE-USA is an organizational unit of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. (IEEE), created in 1973 to support the career and public policy interests of IEEE’s U.S. members. IEEE-USA is primarily supported by an annual assessment paid by U.S. IEEE Members.

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