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AAAS EPI Center letter to Utah legislators regarding mobile voting

The following letter was sent to members of the Utah House of Representatives and Senate regarding Senate Bill 49 Mobile Voting Pilot Project.

January 26, 2021

Dear Legislator,

We are writing from the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s (AAAS) Center for Scientific Evidence in Public Issues and the U.S. Technology Policy Committee of the Association for Computing Machinery (USTPC) regarding Utah’s consideration of an expansion of insecure internet voting. AAAS, the world's largest multidisciplinary scientific society, and ACM, the world’s largest computing society, work to provide a voice for science on societal issues and promote the responsible use of science and technology in public policy.

Internet voting, referring primarily to the electronic return of a marked ballot via email, fax, web-based portal, or mobile apps, is not a secure solution for voting in Utah or elsewhere in any form, nor will it be in the foreseeable future. In April, we wrote to every governor, secretary of state, and state election director across the country detailing the scientific and technical risks of internet voting and urging officials to refrain from allowing the use of any internet voting system. To date, more than 80 leading organizations, scientists, and security experts have signed the letter, which documents that:

  • All internet voting systems and technologies are currently inherently insecure.
  • No technical evidence exists that any internet voting technology is safe or can be made so in the foreseeable future; rather, all research performed to date demonstrates the opposite.
  • No blockchain technology can mitigate the profound dangers inherent in internet voting.
  • No mobile voting app is sufficiently secure to permit its use.

These statements reflect the findings of both recent and two decades of rigorous, science-based analysis. In May, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) released additional guidance describing the electronic return of marked ballots as “high-risk even with controls in place.”

The guidance explains that “electronic ballot return, the digital return of a voted ballot by the voter, creates significant security risks to the confidentiality of ballot and voter data (e.g., voter privacy and ballot secrecy), integrity of the voted ballot, and availability of the system… Securing the return of voted ballots via the internet while ensuring ballot integrity and maintaining voter privacy is difficult, if not impossible, at this time.”

These concerns echo a 2018 consensus study report on election security by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), the most definitive and comprehensive report on the scientific evidence behind voting security in the U.S. which stated:

“At the present time, the Internet (or any network connected to the Internet) should not be used for the return of marked ballots. Further, Internet voting should not be used in the future until and unless very robust guarantees of security and verifiability are developed and in place, as no known technology guarantees the secrecy, security, and verifiability of a marked ballot transmitted over the Internet.”

Rather than enhancing security, the 2018 NASEM report described the addition of blockchains to voting systems as “added points of attack for malicious actors.” As described in our open letter, analysis of one blockchain voting system revealed vulnerabilities where “information captured from voters exposes them to serious risk of identity theft, and information from overseas military voters risks potentially providing adversaries with intelligence regarding military deployments, endangering the lives of service members and national security.” Despite these profound risks, a recent report by MIT researchers concluded that “online voting may have little to no effect on turnout in practice, and it may even increase disenfranchisement.”

We share your desire to expand ballot access for all. Utah can demonstrate leadership in election security by committing to scientifically sound election systems that embrace both accessibility and security. As noted in these remote voting recommendations, more secure alternatives exist to provide accessible remote voting for overseas uniformed personnel, individuals with disabilities, and others who may have difficulty accessing the ballot.

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the technical challenges election officials faced in preparing for secure, accurate elections this fall. Despite these new challenges, election systems delivered secure, accurate, and reliable results. We would welcome the opportunity to discuss more secure alternatives to internet voting with you and your colleagues, including accessible remote voting by mail, and to connect you with leading experts on these technologies. To arrange for such briefings, please don’t hesitate to contact us directly. 

Thank you,

 

Michael D. Fernandez, Director
Center for Scientific Evidence in Public Issues
American Association for the Advancement of Science

James A. Hendler, Chair
U.S. Technology Policy Committee
Association for Computing Machinery

Scott Brown,
Assistant Professor School of Computing, University of Utah*

Jeff M. Phillips, PhD
Associate Professor School of Computing, University of Utah*

John Regehr, PhD
Professor School of Computing, University of Utah*

Robert Ricci, PhD
Research Associate Professor School of Computing, University of Utah*

Kent Seamons, PhD
Professor of Computer Science, Director, Internet Security Research Lab, Brigham Young University*

Eliane Wiese, PhD
Assistant Professor School of Computing, University of Utah*

Jason Wiese, PhD
Assistant Professor School of Computing, University of Utah*

Phillip J. Windley, PhD
Adjunct Professor of Computer Science, Brigham Young University*

 

*Affiliations listed for identification purposes only, and do not imply institutional endorsement.

Letter to governors, secretaries of state and state election directors on the insecurity of online voting

Author

Michael Fernandez

Contact

Kathryn McGrath

Communications Director, AAAS Center for Scientific Evidence in Public Issues

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