RealTime IT News

Defense Dept. Shelves Online Voting

The Department of Defense (DoD) on Friday shut down its online voting experiment for overseas military and civilian citizens.

An internal memo from Paul Wolfowitz, DoD deputy defense secretary, to David Chu, personnel and readiness undersecretary, earlier this week described the Secure Electronic Registration and Voting Experiment (SERVE) as unable to insure legitimacy of votes.

The decision comes weeks after a panel of security experts, the Security Peer Review Group (SPRG), said the foundation of the Internet was fundamentally flawed -- open to hacks and denial of service attacks -- not particularly the equipment used in the experiment.

Dr. David Jefferson, one of the SPRG's security experts who authored the report, praised the DoD for making the difficult decision of canceling the experiment, and expects technology advances in the next five years will not make e-voting any more plausible.

"There is some promising cryptographic technology under development now that is not getting the attention it deserves from either the security community or the elections community, but that could, in theory, go a long way toward securing an election on the Internet," Jefferson told internetnews.com.

"However, that technology is rather esoteric and people so far seem to have difficulty understanding it," he said. "Barring the wide acceptance of such a technological breakthrough specifically designed for elections, I do not think it will be safe to conduct a public election over the Internet in the next 5 years."

SERVE began in July, when the consulting firm Accenture won a contract with the DoD to conduct the experiment. The company had already developed pilot programs in Florida and the United Kingdom.

Accenture officials did not have a chance to respond to the decision at press time, but a DoD spokesperson said the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) -- which oversaw the experiment -- and officials would continually reassess the technology in the future to run SERVE again.

"Our efforts will continue to demonstrate all capabilities to cast ballots over the Internet," the DoD spokesperson said. "(Wolfowitz) said he would reconsider his position in the future, but only if it could be shown that the integrity of the election results can be insured."

Until that time, soldiers stationed in far-flung places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo and Bosnia will continue to fill out absentee ballots.

It's uncertain how the decision will affect the e-voting issue this year. Federal and state officials have been installing online voting machines for the general election, which has the potential to be every bit as polarizing and close as the 2000 presidential election.

While manufacturers like Diebold and Sequoia Voting Systems originally installed online voting machines in different states, it has recently run into opposition from scientists and critics.

The outcry prompted the manufacturers to band together and form the Election Technology Council (ETC) to address these issues.