While we often hear mail-in voting as an alternative to in-person voting, not many are aware that some U.S, states have also adopted an online voting system.
At the forefront of this technology is a Seattle company called Democracy Live, regarded as a leading provider of US online ballot portal technology. The company reports having provided about 85% of all ballot portals in the U.S. The President of Democracy Live Bryan Finney has expressed hopes of gradually increasing access to online voting.
Inasmuch as every American state regulates its own election procedures, online voting processes tend to vary. Some states require voters to first request a PDF version of the state’s official ballot using their email or fax, and then send an image of the completed, signed and marked PDF ballot back via the same messaging system used.
In some states, the online voting process merely requires voters to download the ballot from a portal and then send it by fax or as attachment to an email.
Democracy Live’s online voting technology enables voters to access, fill-up, mark and send their ballot using one web portal, but its adoption still depends on the type of online voting service opted for by a U.S. state. If adopted, voters can access Democracy Live’s proprietary ballot portal called OmniBallot, by requesting the state’s local election agency to provide them with a link (URL) that will direct them to the portal; and from there, view, fill-up, mark and send their ballot via the portal.
In Oregon one of the U.S. jurisdictions that have adopted Democracy Live’s online voting technology, Kim Lindell, Umatilla County’s Elections Manager remarked that
“Due to COVID-19 and the turmoil in the US Postal Service that could result to slower mail, overseas voters consider online systems as vital.”
Drawbacks of the Online Voting System
As in any new system introduced and adopted by a sector or industry, the online voting system also has drawbacks.
First off, voters who turn in ballots online have to waive their rights to ballot secrecy. Still, some state election agencies give online voters the option to send their marked ballots by mail if they want to maintain their right to secrecy. Yet not a few online voters chose to waive their ballot secrecy right in exchange for the ease and speed in getting their votes in.
According to a University of Michigan computer science professor named J. Alex Halderman, who co-wrote a paper with an MIT student, voting online is still risky because hackers know a lot of tricks for infiltrating emails. Democracy Live’s online voting platform is not exempt from such risks.
They argue that hackers could easily install malware in computers and tamper with voters’ ballots. If given the motivation hackers could likewise penetrate Democracy Live’s internal systems and steal the voter data amassed and contained within.