Election voting on the Internet ‘inevitable,’ experts say

Voting in Silver Spring

Voting in Silver Spring

By Sam Smith

Democrats and Republicans agreed that Internet voting is “inevitable” for the future of America’s election process at a panel hosted by the University of Maryland’s Center of American Politics and Citizenship on Capitol Hill Wednesday.

“Its just a matter of time until people demand that we vote on the Internet. People do everything on the internet,” said Republican Dave Mason, a former commissioner of the Federal Election Commission.

Would online voting actually get more people to vote?

Democrat Bob Carey, former director of the Federal Voting Assistance Program, said that online voting would likely lead to a higher voting turnout.  He said that at the very least it guarantees more military votes would be counted.

“In the 2010 election, there were approximately 220,000 military voters, who would have otherwise voted if they had the same voter participation rate as the rest of the population,” Carey said. “I’ve been out at sea. It takes two, three, four weeks to get a letter. We always had Internet access. We have printers on board. We can easily get those ballots out there. When I was at FVAP, I strongly advocated online voting.”

Although Mason supports online voting, he said he does not feel that online voting would lead to increased voter participation. Other efforts made to increase voter turnout, such as early voting, have not lead to more votes.

Mason also noted that online voting would change the way in which candidates and parties will have to appeal to the voters.

“There is a big social difference in the way that we govern ourselves,” Mason said. “It will change the nature of voter appeal, the kinds of appeals that we make towards voters when they make the decision at their computer.”

New security and fraud risks in online voting

State Voter ID laws have made voting fraud a hot-button issue that Republicans see as important and Democrats view as insubstantial. The prospect of online voting would certainly introduce new security and fraud risks.

But Carey said  that although there are risks associated with an online voting system, there are security risks associated with any voting system, especially the current system pointing out the debacle in the extraordinarily close 2000 presidential election.

“You can essentially eliminate the possibility of someone being able to hack into a Virtual Private Network and change a ballot. Can someone hack into a VPN? Sure. Can they hack into a VPN without being detected? Virtually impossible,” Carey said. “ I really do believe that full Internet voting is something that we eventually need to get to. This is something that definitely needs to be discussed, funded, researched, developed and deployed.”

Mason said that the major threat in an Internet system is not likely to come from hackers, but from how easy it will be to influence the votes and possibly pay off voters.

Making it easier to vote

With just 41.7% of eligible voters casting a ballot in the 2010 elections, the panel discussed ways in which the voting process can be made less difficult.

“When you look at the percentage of people that vote knowing what people have gone through to get to vote, is very discouraging,” said Laura Still Thrift, senior legislative assistant for U.S. Rep. David Price, a North Carolina Democrat.

Difficulties for voters largely depend on the individual state’s election laws. Marty Stone, a former member of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said that it’s easier to vote in some states than others because of strict absentee ballot laws.

In states such as Virginia  and Tennessee, voters that wish to cast absentee ballots must provide a legal reason to vote through the mail. States such as California and more recently,  Maryland do not require an excuse to vote through the mail.

Better access to voting in some states than others

“As an American citizen, it distresses me that people of California have more access to voting then someone in Delaware, or that someone in Tennessee is less likely to vote then someone in Oregon,” Stone said.

Thrift mentioned that Price has co-sponsored a number of bills that would make it easier for people to cast their vote.

One bill would prohibit the requirement for photo identification, a new mandate in some states. Another would permit same-day voter registration so that people don’t have to take time in advance to register. Another one would ensure that if a state allows you to vote by mail, it would allow everyone to vote by mail.

Thrift also discussed measures in which the registration process could be modernized. For example, allowing people to register when they have any interaction with the federal government and requiring colleges to educate out-of-state students on the state’s voting laws so the students can change their residency.

“This is pushing back against efforts that make it harder and more difficult to vote,” Thrift said.

However, as Mason said during the earlier Internet voting discussion, making voting easier will not guarantee an increased turnout.

“One of the remarkable things to me when looking at voting statistics as we have taken down barriers to vote and made it easier to register, expanding the franchise, voter participation rates have not tended to go up,” Mason said. “ In fact, in some cases there have been a slight negative result.”

About The Author

Len Lazarick


Len Lazarick was the founding editor and publisher of MarylandReporter.com and is currently the president of its nonprofit corporation and chairman of its board He was formerly the State House bureau chief of the daily Baltimore Examiner from its start in April 2006 to its demise in February 2009. He was a copy editor on the national desk of the Washington Post for eight years before that, and has spent decades covering Maryland politics and government.


  1. Rebecca Wilson

    Bob Carey, while he was director of the Federal Voting Assistance Program, helped give MD a grant to develop on online voter registration system which just went “live” this summer. Unfortunately, the way it is built is so clueless that it would enable almost anyone to tamper with the voter registration rolls. The development of this voter registration system ignored every known “best practice” for technological product development. Why? Because it was built in-house by amateurs who have no idea what they are doing. These are real elections, folks, with a lot at stake. They are not
    appropriate guinea pigs for testing out half-baked ideas with holes in
    them big enough to drive trucks through.

  2. Rebecca Wilson

    Flying cars are probably inevitable, too, but that’s a far cry from saying that we have the technology, laws. or infrastructure in place to drive safely that way right now. Voting is a very different kind of transaction from anything else we do on the internet because ballot secrecy means that we are putting blind faith in the transaction that it recorded and counted each ballot correctly. Unlike financial transactions, where both sides have a full accounting that can be verified, there is no way to know if a secret vote was counted accurately — only the voter knows how they voted. This is an insurmountable obstacle with existing internet infrastructure because there are so many ways that a voting transaction could be corrupted. So even though we do a lot of things online that seem similar to voting, they’re really not. Most of us have probably driven in cars and ridden in airplanes, but that is not the same as driving a flying car. For both of those we will need not only new technologies but also a lot of careful thinking about how to use them safely. What happens if some flying car comes crashing through your roof, or an election puts an evil robot in charge of us all? How about if we let scientists develop safe technologies and then think carefully about the implications of how we use them before we rush recklessly into solutions that could destroy the foundation on which our democracy is built — the right to choose those who govern us.

  3. Dukehoopsfan

    If you can’t get your butt to the voting booth order an absebtee ballot. Internet voting is one of the stupidest ideas of all time.

  4. abby_adams

    Any dedicated hacker or groups of hackers could distrup online voting if they wanted to. It’s really disheartening that we promote voting around the world praising those with purple fingers & paper ballots. Yet the way to get voters to exercise their civic duty is to make it no different than ordering a pizza from Papa John’s? Voting # are not up even with motor-voter & early balloting because a majority of Americans are too lazy or too busy to bother.

  5. Parrotisla

    OnLine voting is stupid and more fraud would be committed. Sure you can cause fraud by hacking into the current system but its next to impossible and would require some kind of access to the system. Any experienced hacker if they wanted to could hack an internet voting system and destroy the whole integrity of the election. Besides anyone could vote for anyone if you had the correct info. If we require ID to get on an Airplane, by booze, buy cigarettes, ect there is no reason you shouldn’t need it for voting. You even need ID to get a Drivers License. If you can’t identify yourself when voting you probably shouldn’t be voting anyway. How does anyone get through society today without an ID?

    • Dale McNamee

      And here’s another question….How do I know that “you are you” online ? Names and e-mails can be “spoofed”, along with being hacked,etc. Remember the fuss over the Diebold voting machines ? And the “concerns” over the “integrity” of the votes ?

      Internet voting is stupid and dangerous !

      I guess the voters are getting too lazy to show up and vote…They deserve what they get !

  6. fgoodwin

    Guess what Marty?

    States set their own voter laws! Why do you care what the voting process is in California or Oregon? States also have different traffic laws, different educational standards, different tax systems, etc. Are you concerned that citizens in your state may pay less taxes that citizens in California? If not, then don’t stick your nose into other peoples’ business.

    Worry about your own darn state and leave the rest of us alone.

    • FanOfVoting

      When we vote for President, we have to want and insist that every statecount votes fairly and accurately, so the one-person/one-vote is fairly administered in all the states. While you are right in saying states set their own voter laws, they do so within federal guidelines. Do you remember how close elections seemingly hinge on some states? We have to insist that all states have laws that can administer elections fairly – giving people access to voting while preserving the security of the vote.

      • fgoodwin

        The number of state and local elections DWARFS the one presidential election we have every four years. And don’t forget, it is NOT a direct vote for President. You are voting for an elector and that person votes for President. So as long as a state does not deprive anyone of their Constitutional rights, I see no reason why this should be a federal issue.