Activists object to Internet voting

05/30/08 Mitch E. Perry
WMNF Drive-Time News Friday | Listen to this entire show:

Voting rights activists are objecting to a plan by Okaloosa County to experiment with Internet voting for overseas service members – and they’re hinting at a lawsuit if Secretary of State Kurt Browning doesn’t intervene.

Under plans for a pilot program fostered Okaloosa County Elections Supervisor Pat Hollarn, service members and other Okaloosa residents living in Germany, England and Okinawa would vote at computer stations on encrypted electronic ballots. A secure computer line would transmit the data to Spain and then back to Florida.

The program is called the Okaloosa Distance Balloting Pilot, but is being funded by a Virginia-based nonprofit called Operation Bravo, whose goal is to have remote electronic voting in place for all Americans based overseas by the 2016 election.

Voting rights activists, like Dan McCrea, agree with the Okaloosa Elections supervisor that the current system for overseas citizens is not working. But he thinks the problem in Okaloosa County is that it will use unsecure, high tech internet voting.

Okaloosa County Supervisor of Elections Pat Hollern agrees with some of the criticism of Internet voting, but said with the unreliability of the current system of garnering votes from U.S. citizens overseas, it’s worth the effort.

Hollern says the plan is not intended for widespread voting, but instead is an alternative method of absentee voting. She says that in her 20 years as supervisor of elections, despite rising costs, she sees no improvement in the mail service.

But a criticism of her and the pilot project is that she is involved with Operation Bravo. Hollern rejects the conflict of interest charge.

The letter sent by the Florida Voters Coalition asks Secretary of State Kurt Browning to take whatever steps are necessary to make sure that conflicts of interest are eliminated as a matter of safety, security and legality.

The Secretary of State’s Office says it’s too soon for their department to make a ruling of any sort.

Internet voting was used in the 2000 Primary elections in Pheonix, and in Michigan’s 2004 Primary elections.

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Senior Fellow, National Defense Committee

The Florida Voters Coalition (FVC) letter regarding the Okaloosa County Distance Balloting Initiative is rife with incorrect characterizations of the technology Okaloosa County uses, the process by which it would execute this initiative, and the relationship with the Operation Bravo Foundation. It appears that the Coalition’s knee-jerk Luddite reaction is more due to the mere presence of technology in the voting process, rather than the technology vulnerabilities which they ascribe to this project. Okaloosa County’s project is not, and cannot be considered under any circumstances, internet voting. Votes are cast and tabulated at the kiosk site, just as at any polling place back in Okaloosa County. The only internet connection is after the votes are cast and tabulated, and then a virtual private network (VPN) connection is established to send the tabulated results back to Okaloosa County in a single transmission. It’s essentially a secure e-mail transmission of the already cast, tabulated, and known results. It is ironic FVC cites the SERVE Scientific Peer Review Group Minority report as supposedly condemning the technology to be used in the Okaloosa County project. In fact, that report not only endorses the Okaloosa County technology of “kiosk architecture as a starting point,” saying that such a system “avoids the dangers of these [internet and PC computer] architectural features.” It appears FVC cherry-picked those passages from the report that could be presented out of context as allegedly condemnatory of the Okaloosa County project. Likewise, it is sophomoric and unfair to characterize Operation Bravo as some nefarious attempt to force internet voting on an unsuspecting public. Okaloosa County has been at the forefront of electronic voting support for military voters since 2000, and this latest project is another step in that long history. To an outside observer, Operation Bravo simply looks like a non-profit established to relieve the Okaloosa County taxpayers the cost of this important pilot project. Your station should be lauding the work of Pat Hollarn and Okaloosa County in trying to overcome the shameful treatment to which our country has subjected military voters. The voting system under which we force them to labor meant that more than 420,000 military personnel who requested absentee ballots in 2006 never got the chance to cast them. 55,000 of them were Floridians. For FVC to argue that this mass disenfranchisement should persist, denying hundreds of thousands of military personnel the right to vote for or against the same elected officials who will determine when and where they fight is the true national security threat.