By Shen Gao
Yesterday was the big day—the presidential election. No matter who you voted for or where you cast your vote, there is a great chance computers played a role in your ballot.
At some polling booths, computers are the star. Voters may use a computer and touch the screen to select candidates and answer questions. At others, computers may simply remain in the back room, outside the polling place. They may be tasked with reading paper ballots.
The reliability and safety of these computers raise legitimate concerns regarding the protection of voter confidentiality and rights. In the 2000 election, in Florida, voters punched holes in paper ballots. As a result of this, some ballots included holes that still had bits of paper left from punching. Beceause of this, computers might have misread some ballots. Even now, some states have people vote by coloring ovals on a paper ballot and then having computers scan and tallying the actual results.
No matter the methods, most states still do not allow online voting, except for cases where the voter is overseas or is military personnel. Usually, for places that allow computer voting, paper backups are recorded for each vote.
New systems for achieving a higher guarantee of voter privacy, security, and voting integrity are being developed. Not surprisingly, they rely on computers.
The main concern with online voting is guaranteeing 100% security. A common problem in the cyber world is data breaches. They happen on social media, credit card companies, stores, etc. It is still difficult to guarantee the privacy of online votes due to possible voter fraud; enforcing that people vote freely, without being coerced into voting for particular candidates, is the top concern.
The British company Smartmatic is working to create a secure online voting system. A company spokesperson, based in Florida, states that “[their] system allows voters to verify electronically that their vote was cast as intended. This verification is done from a different device from that in which the vote was cast.”
One method used is a system where, when a user signs in, a code is sent to their phone, and they are asked to enter this code on the website where they are voting.
The concern is that, even if such an online system is well-designed, a hacker can still break into someone’s computer or phone. This way, the hacker may be able to see how someone voted, and voting privacy would be breached.
Computers provide tangible benefits for voting. They are more efficient and accurate at tallying votes, and can be easier to use for those with disabilities. They can make voting more convenient, as well. Voters would be able to vote wherever they’d like, instead of commuting to a distant polling place that may be far, or where hours do not work with their schedule. They also can help prevent errors, including preventing someone from voting twice or remind voters of required fields left blank on the ballot.
Dan Wallach, a computer scientist at Rice University, is working with other researchers to create a computer system that would allow someone to vote from anywhere in the U.S. This system is called STAR-Vote, which sets itself apart due to its advanced encryption technology that will prevent anyone from accessing the voting details.
Wallach explains that “[they] want anybody to look at every ballot and be able to add them up without knowing how anybody voted but still get the right answer.”
Ultimately, researchers hope that computers’ involvement will boost voter turnout. But, in addition to having computer technology, being informed about for whom one is voting for is also very important in all elections.