The following letter was sent to members of the Ohio House of Representatives regarding House Bill 560 and provisions that would permit internet voting.
June 11, 2020
In light of the unprecedented challenge to American elections presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, I am writing from the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Center for Scientific Evidence in Public Issues (EPI Center) regarding HB560 and internet voting. At the EPI Center, our goal is to make it easier for people to access scientific evidence and integrate that evidence into their decision‐making process. As the world's largest multidisciplinary scientific society and a leading publisher of cutting‐edge research through its Science family of journals, AAAS provides a voice for science on societal issues and promotes the responsible use of science in public policy.
Internet voting, referring primarily to the electronic return of a marked ballot, is not a secure solution for voting in the United States, nor will it be in the foreseeable future. In April, we reached out to every governor, secretary of state, and state election director across the country with an open letter detailing the scientific and technical risks of internet voting and urging officials to limit the use of internet voting wherever possible. To date, more than 80 leading organizations, scientists, and security experts have signed on in support. In the letter, we provided evidence 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.
As detailed in our letter, these statements reflect the findings of both recent and two decades of rigorous, science-based analysis. In the time since the letter, 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.”
Blockchain-based voting systems introduce additional security vulnerabilities and do not address the fundamental security concerns scientists, election security experts, and government officials have expressed since the advent of internet voting. Rather than enhancing security, the 2018 NASEM report described the addition of blockchains to voting systems as “added points of attack for malicious actors.” Experts and researchers have expressed significant concern over the perceived security of blockchain technology, more generally, but particularly regarding voting security. 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.”
Ohio is among the leading states in post-election audits thanks to your recognition of the scientific evidence and implementation of optional risk-limiting audits. The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee stated that “statistically sound audits may be the simplest and most direct way to ensure confidence in the integrity of the vote.” Promoting the continued adoption of risk-limiting audits by counties and localities alongside paper ballots presents the most secure and reliable option for Ohio voters.
We understand the difficulty involved in making changes to voting systems and ensuring ballot access for all. However, Ohio has the opportunity to maintain its lead in election security by continuing to adopt scientifically supported election reforms. More secure alternatives exist for providing accessible remote voting for overseas uniformed personnel and those individuals with disabilities than internet voting. We recognize that scientific evidence is often only one of many factors to consider in decisions and we appreciate the time, money, and resources these changes require.
The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbates the technical challenges election officials face in preparing for secure, accurate elections in Ohio this fall. We stand ready to assist you in securing the vote and would welcome the opportunity to connect you with some of the leading experts on accessible remote voting by mail if you would be interested in learning more. If there is anything the EPI Center can do to help support Ohio’s election security, please let us know.
Michael D. Fernandez
Director, Center for Scientific Evidence in Public Issues
American Association for the Advancement of Science