Votes were cast in Florida's general election at polling sites in Germany, Britain and Japan as part of a small experiment in Internet voting. The pet project of the elections supervisor in Okaloosa County is being touted as a success. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson has called for its expansion, but in truth the Internet voting effort was premature and wildly expensive for the relative handful of votes cast.
The Okaloosa Distance Balloting Pilot program was expected to collect 600 or so votes from the international sites, which were selected because of their proximity to large military bases where many Okaloosa residents are stationed. Okaloosa County is home to Eglin Air Force Base.
Voters cast ballots at kiosks on personal computers, and the votes were transmitted over the Internet through a secure line. Voters received a paper verification of their vote, which was dropped into a tamperproof box that was returned to the elections office as a backup.
Despite the hype, only 93 votes were cast in an experiment that would have cost about $500,000, though the supervisor said much of the cost was absorbed through in-kind donations from workers or technology firms. Now Nelson is touting Okaloosa's experiment as a model for others and intends to sponsor legislation that would provide grants to other counties to embark on similar efforts. His goal is to find a way to give U.S. citizens overseas the opportunity to vote electronically in a secure manner.
Improving polling access for overseas personnel is a laudable goal. Relying on international mail service to deliver absentee ballots on time is not the best way to make sure every vote counts. But there are credible voices raising serious objections to Internet voting.
The Okaloosa experiment used a voting system offered by Scytl, a secure electronic voting software company in Barcelona, Spain. The Scytl system was certified by Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning after a multistep analysis. But a review of the security analysis by David Dill, professor of computer science at Stanford University, said, "The report reveals many serious security flaws in the Scytl system."
"Scytl essentially has complete control over every vote that goes through their system. They can modify those votes at will," Dill wrote.
Dill is one among many top computer security experts who are more than a little uncomfortable with the vulnerability of Internet voting. Such critics say the very architecture of the Internet means that any online voting system is susceptible to manipulation by an outside attack or an inside job. And the potential may allow tampering to alter the results of an election without notice.
The Okaloosa experiment is a reminder that more could be done to facilitate voting for U.S. citizens overseas. But Florida isn't ready for another election technology with serious concerns about its integrity. There should be more research and experimentation before opening the door to widespread Internet voting overseas.