Sunday, August 9, 2015

E-voting: A reckless threat to voter privacy and election security

Thanks to legislation sponsored by Senator Owen Hill and Representative Dan Nordberg out-of-state military voters and overseas civilians will now have greater access to securely exercising their right to vote in their hometown elections with extended time to return their mail ballots. However, after tense negotiations just before House Bill 1130’s final passage, a bipartisan committee rejected Internet voting for municipal elections. Despite a unanimous House vote for Internet voting, and ignoring Secretary of State Wayne Williams’s unwise support for email voting, the legislature ultimately and wisely rejected Internet transmission of voted ballots in municipal elections.

As a former state legislator, my committee assignments included hearings that limited Internet voting in 2006. Observing escalating cyber-security risks since then, I was shocked this spring when the House supported Internet voting and Senate Republicans, who ultimately stopped the effort, had such difficulty doing so. Secretary Williams, in lobbying for email balloting, assured lawmakers that it would be secure and “The concern that the system is hackable is a nonstarter….” Security experts, legislators, and voters were baffled by Williams’s stance, given the frequent headlines of Internet and email hacking.

After Williams’s failed legislative effort to apply Internet voting to municipal elections, he moved to then expand email voting for military and overseas voters in federal and state elections by using his purported rule-making authority. Critics allege that he exceeded his authority because the rule conflicts with the legislative intent to strictly limit the use of email voting to extenuating hardship circumstances, as agreed in the legislative hearings. In the 2011 hearings, Secretary Gessler testified that email ballots would not be accepted.  But Williams would seemingly give “convenience” for voters and election officials preference over election security, accuracy, and election integrity.

Most Americans desire enthusiastic voter participation, but making convenience a major goal is certain to undermine the security and verifiability of elections. Not voting is a wise, legitimate choice for those who are not engaged and have not studied the candidates or issues. Our state’s push to force-feed ballots to all voters via mandatory mail ballots and Internet schemes risks canceling out the legitimate votes of eligible, informed voters. Internationally-known election experts John Fund (National Review Online) and Hans von Spakovsky (Heritage Foundation) have called out Colorado and Secretary Williams to their national audiences for this wrong-headed expansion of Internet voting.

With significant numbers of military voters, Colorado Springs and El Paso County are tempting targets for purveyors of Internet voting schemes. Continuing vigilance by local voters and governing boards is required to curtail abuses and risks. In the 2013 recall election, Williams, then clerk of El Paso County, supported a temporary election rule to permit email voting for all absentee voters because all-mail balloting could not be used for that election. Fortunately, the public outcry helped defeat that proposed rule.

Colorado Springs municipal elections now appear to encourage any out-of-state military member or dependent to vote by email, whether or not postal mail is available. With the passage of HB1130, Colorado Springs can implement early ballot mailing times and permit military and overseas voters to vote by email ballot only in truly extenuating circumstances. I urge voters to halt convenience email voting.

In addition, Colorado should ban the state’s privacy-invading online application that voters’ privacy by capturing the voter’s identity and votes. Unbeknownst to most voters who vote by email, their private choices are collected by a commercial vendor, defying secret ballot laws. The opportunities for abuse of this data are alarming and could place an entire election in question.

The situation is likely to require legislation or litigation to stop Secretary Williams on this ill-advised path that puts military and overseas votes and election results at needless risk. In the meantime, voters should insist that county clerks honor the lawmakers’ stated intent to limit Internet/email voting. Hard-won voting rights should never be compromised or subject to tampering at the hands of malicious hackers.

Protect your vote by challenging your county clerk to obey the clear intent of the law, and put voting integrity ahead of convenience and budget considerations. Finally, urge your legislator to introduce and/or support 2016 legislation to curtail the use of Internet/email voting.

Former state Sen. David Schultheis, R–Colorado Springs, served in the General Assembly from 2001 to 2010 and was a member of the 2006 House State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee, which conducted hearings on Internet voting.