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Will the U.S. Ever Be Ready for Online Voting?

By Deanne Katz, Esq. on November 07, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

It's been almost 10 years since the first national election that relied on direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting, but we aren't much closer to the idea of voting online in U.S. elections. If anything, we've taken a few steps away from it.

Since the 2000 election, DRE voting has become less popular, Ars Technica reports. Several states, including Florida, have gone back to paper ballots entirely and are phasing out computerized machines.

That doesn't mean our elections are entirely low-tech. Machines are generally used to count ballots. But while our technology moves forward, it seems our elections are lagging behind.

Most Americans still vote using paper ballots even though we carry mini-computers around in our pockets. We're constantly online and a lot of our Internet activity puts our personal information out into the web.

So why aren't we voting online too?

Fear of hacking is probably a big part of the problem. When it comes to DRE machines, the potential for hacking is out there, reports Ars Technica.

It's hard to tell whether any malicious hacking has happened in major elections, but there have certainly been issues attributed to general errors or difficulty working with a voting interface. That translates to potential legal challenges regarding election results, something most people don't want to deal with.

We also know that hacking is possible with online voting. In 2010, Washington, D.C., ran a pilot online voting program and invited hackers to try break into it, reports ABC News. It took a group of University of Michigan students (and their professor) just 36 hours to hack the program and get the names and passwords of voters.

While that seems to illustrate the dangers of online voting, some see it more as a problem with the people creating the voting program itself.

It's true that DC's pilot online-voting system wasn't built by an online security expert. Proponents of online voting say a state-of-the-art system could have avoided many of the problems encountered in the 2010 pilot program.

While it's not common, online voting isn't totally unheard of in the United States. For example, New Jersey is allowing many voters to email their votes in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, though the system has run into a few problems.

In another example, the online voting company Everyone Counts says its software has been used in several local and municipal elections nationwide.

One problem is how to expand online voting without decreasing security. But as our expensive voting machines grow old and need to be replaced, online voting may soon become a more cost-effective option.

We're certainly not ready for a national online voting system yet, but it could happen sometime in the future. Whether that's four years from now or 40, the days of paper ballots are likely numbered.

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