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Chicago Tribune

Forget Internet voting, security expert says

November 7, 2006
By Charles Storch
Tribune staff reporter

Douglas Jones ... , an expert on election technology and security, began researching electronic voting in 1994. ... Tribune staff reporter Charles Storch talked with the University of Iowa computer scientist about the issues surrounding online voting. Edited excerpts follow:

Q. What current system do you prefer?

A. If I had my druthers, we all would be voting on precinct-count, optical mark-sense ballots. [In this system -- similar to one of two employed in Chicago and Cook County -- voters mark ballots, which then are read by a precinct's optical scanners]. They seem to offer the best combination of recountability, auditability, ease of use and ease of observing. That is, can an election observer tell that things are being done honestly? But that requires we address the needs of blind people and people with serious motor disabilities because [this system] requires that you be sighted and able to handle a pencil.

Q. What's your feeling on voting by Internet?

A. Internet voting has really horrible problems. The security problems on the Internet today verge on insoluble. In fact, it's possible to prove in a mathematical sense that anti-virus software cannot be effective. ... The attacks that are possible on the integrity of elections run on the Internet are just without limit. I am extraordinarily suspicious of our ability in any near-term model to get Internet voting reliable for something as important as a national election.

Q. Isn't voter access to the Internet also an issue?

A. It's remarkable how the Internet is penetrating society these days. Access is clearly becoming better and better. I'm not sure that's as big a fundamental problem as the security problem.

Q. What about auditing of results after polls close?

A. Any kind of auditing of elections after the fact is something that improves them. In the United States, after we release the canvass, we traditionally do everything we can to prevent anyone from looking at what happened. What I'd really love is an auditing model where -- whatever kind of voting systems we use -- every bit of information that was preserved is gone over by auditors to see whether it makes sense, is consistent and shows evidence that the procedures were followed as required. Every voting system saves enough information that auditors can learn something about how well it was operated. And we don't do enough of that.

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