During the 2008 General Election, the Arizona Department of State opened the option for voting online (election commissioning is a subset of each state’s state department as opposed to a federal responsibility). Despite the Pentagon’s decision to abandon its online voting system for military personnel, the Arizona Department of State became the first state to offer Internet voting in a general election to overseas and civilian families. This poses the question of whether or not individual states ought to possess the power to allow their constituents to use online voting systems in a national election when a) citizens in other states are not permitted to do so and b) when the federal government has not verified the security of the state’s voting system.
Is it fair for citizens of one state to have access to online voting in a national election while those others do not? On one hand, Arizona’s implementation of an online voting system sets a precedent for other states to make voting more accessible for military personnel. Because military personnel are risking their lives under the orders of the executive branch, should they not be entitled to decide on the leaders responsible for those orders? On the other hand, allowing military personnel and overseas citizens from one state to have access to online voting is not considered by the electoral differences between states. That is, even though the Arizona State Department provided overseas citizens and military personnel with voting access and thereby expanding its voting base, the federal government never increased Arizona’s number of electoral votes.
If large security concerns regarding online voting exist, should an individual state be allowed to use an online voting system in a national election while others are not? After all, security lapses will not simply affect votes in Arizona, but in a close general election fraudulent activity could potentially tip the vote in one direction or another. Moreover, because “national news does not cover a lot about what is happening at the state level regarding voting,” there are only few media watchdogs that can scrutinize any irregularities and fraudulent activities in state-run online voting procedures. However, the Arizona Department of State tried to check security issues in a way that even questions whether or not Arizona’s conception of online voting should actually be considered online voting. According to Kevin Poulsen from WIRED,
“In the Arizona system, voters could request an early ballot through a Secretary of State website, and receive it though snail mail. If there’s no time for the postal service, though, the voter gets a PDF of the ballot in e-mail. This is where it gets a little clunky. You can’t fill out the ballot on your computer — you have to print it out, then use your scanner to scan the completed and signed ballot back onto your PC. Then you upload the scanned ballot to the aforementioned “secured system” (it uses SSL).”
Because Arizona’s online voting system is a hybrid of internet and paper use, it is questionable to actually refer to Arizona’s voting system as true internet voting. Poulsen describes how, “Stender, and director of elections Amy Bjelland, said the system wasn’t true internet voting, because you couldn’t just go to a website and click on some radio boxes to choose the next president.” Regardless of what we call the voting system, the fact that it included an online aspect brings into question whether or not the Arizona Department of State can securely implement its voting procedure. Though voters’ handwriting on the PDF provides the department with a way to identify individual voters, there is no solution for the chance that malacious hackers write “a bot that infects unpatched PCs en masse, watches for interactions with the voting website, then changes the votes in the PDF to whatever the malware writer wants.” Consequently, Arizona’s combination of absentee-style paper ballots and online voting serves as a potential way to decrease hacking in online voting, but not to prevent it from occurring on a categorical level.
Poulsen, Kevin. "Is Internet Voting Safe? Vote Here." Wired. 04 June 09. Accessed 19 October 2009. http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2009/06/cfp-evote/