Why You Cannot Vote Online Today

PHOTO: Everyone Counts is a company that provides online and Internet voting software for computers, iPads, and other devices.
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Today U.S. citizens across the country will wake up, drive or walk to their assigned polling locations, likely wait in line, and then vote for president. Some will vote using voting machines, pulling the lever and all, some will use some new electronic voting systems, and some use paper ballots.

Yes, some in New Jersey will vote via email because of Hurricane Sandy, but for most of the country the Internet won't have a role in the process.

That stands in stark contrast to countries like the U.K., Estonia, Switzerland and Canada, all of which have begun to use Internet voting systems. So, why can't you vote today using your own computer or iPad?

Client and Server Security Risks

Spend a few minutes researching online voting and you'll find out that the answer to that question is fairly complicated. But for the most part the biggest hurdle standing in the way of casting our votes on the Internet has to do with security concerns.

"The biggest obstacle to voting on the Internet is the security problem," Avi Rubin, a professor of computer science at John Hopkins and an expert in network security, told ABC News. "The fact is that right now the security threats on the Internet are getting worse, not better. Before we can allow people to vote on computers we have to make sure people are in control of their own computers."

There are two major concerns when it comes to security: the vulnerabilities of voters' personal computers, and the vulnerabilities of the servers and backend systems that would power the online voting infrastructure and host the websites for particular jurisdictions.

The fears on the server side concern hackers. The biggest fears there revolve around servers and sites being redirected to fake sites, thus causing a vote to go to the wrong place and thus leading to inaccurate tallying. But the security of those systems are easier to control than citizens' computers.

"The hardest problem to solve is what happens at a person's computer. The dream is to be able to vote at work or at home or wherever the computer is, but the vote can be intercepted at the keyboard," David Dill, Professor of Computer Science at Stanford and founder of VerifiedVoting.org, told ABC News. "Suppose you have a virus at your computer and it sends a different vote. There is no link between the recorded vote and the ballot. We don't know how to secure every PC in the country. Antivirus software does a good job but not good enough."

The fear is that software could capture the vote and direct people to false websites that might look like real voting sites, but are instead false sites. There is also the issue of keeping votes anonymous.

The 2010 Experiment

In 2010, the District of Columbia invited hackers to try to take down a pilot online voting system. Students led by a professor at the University of Michigan were able to hack into the system in 36 hours, revealing the names and passwords of over 900 voters.

The incident, which received a lot of attention, has illustrated the fears with online voting systems, but if you ask some experts they say the problem there was with the system itself. "The system there was set up by two amateur guys," William Kelleher, author of "Internet Voting Now," said.

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