What to expect from chapter 3

Chapter 3:
Internet voting for overseas citizens

This chapter is about the evolution of attempts to improve the ability of American citizens overseas to vote via computing technology. In particu­lar, this chapter highlights an organization of computer scientists, election officials, and others with expertise in voting issues that developed a suc­cessful pilot project for overseas voting used by the U.S. military in the 2008 general election.

Among some computer scientists the subject of internet voting is highly controversial. Anyone who has an opinion usually has a very strong opinion and will defend it technically. Interestingly, although there are many areas of computer science where experts disagree, few bring out the passions of internet voting. To make this point crystal clear, we include some material presenting the perspective of detractors of internet voting. Several questions underlying the divergent views revolve around management and control of critical data and processes. How much secu­rity is needed? What level is acceptable? How do you test and empirically prove you have achieved an acceptable level of security?

To arrive at a well formed professional opinion as a computer scientist you need to know state of the art network technology and be extremely well versed in security issues. You have to understand the current status of cyber attack techniques and how they can be countered. You need to be on top of the latest methods of compromising data at both the software and hardware level, and how to eliminate or circumvent such efforts. Thus you also need to know your computer architecture.

But there is more. Several of the people interviewed for this pro­file commented, either directly or indirectly, how important it was not to operate in a technical vacuum but to understand the organizational structures and culture of their project. They were referring to the prevail­ing winds of politics, policy and the culture of decision makers. They (as would you) needed to understand why the current climate is the way it is and how we got here. Therefore, this chapter includes relevant historical background about the evolution of voting methods and technologies in the United States and a limited reference to internet voting taking place in other countries.

Because we are talking about voting and transmitting highly sensi­tive data over a global internet, this chapter focuses strongly on the com­plexities of network and security design. Many questions have to be asked and answered and we cover those questions, showing how this project resolved them to the satisfaction of not only many election officials but the American voters living abroad who volunteered to use the system.

If you are interested in government, politics and public policy, internet voting provides endless technical challenges and the opportunity to help a segment of the population that is sometimes left out of the democratic process. There will also be other important projects, for years to come, where managing highly sensitive data over a global network will have the opportunity to bring people equality of opportunity. One of the things you will learn in this chapter is that when policy and politics intersect with technology, it takes dedication to pursue your dream. That is what happened with the successful project described in the following pages.