two months before the presidential vote, Missouri's
secretary of state has suddenly announced that
he will allow military voters from his state -
one of the most pivotal in the election - to e-mail
ballots from combat zones to the Defense Department.
E-mail is far too insecure to be used for voting.
Missouri and North Dakota, which announced a similar
rule yesterday, should rescind these orders right
away. Missouri's action also sheds light on the
Defense Department's role in administering federal
elections, a troubling situation that needs far
Missouri secretary of state, Matt Blunt, decided
last week that military voters in combat zones
will be able to e-mail their ballots to the Pentagon,
which will then send them to local Missouri elections
offices to be counted. This system, which has
not been used before, is rife with security problems,
including the possibility of hacking the e-mailed
ballots, which will not be encrypted. Earlier
this year the Defense Department scrapped a pilot
program to allow the military to vote over the
Internet, after concluding that it could not "assure
the legitimacy of votes" cast online.
is more cause for concern after the ballots arrive
at the Pentagon. E-mail voters will be required
to sign a release acknowledging that their votes
may not be kept secret. When the people handling
ballots know who they are cast for, it is not
hard to imagine that ballots for disfavored candidates
could accidentally be "lost." And because the
e-mailed ballots arrive as computer documents,
it is possible to cut off the voter's digitized
signature, attach it to a ballot supporting another
candidate, and send that ballot on to the state
to be counted.
is unclear how good the protections are to guard
against tampering. The e-mailed ballots will be
handled by a contractor, Omega Technologies, hired
for this purpose, at the company's offices and
without the election observers who are present
at normal polling places.
voting by military personnel also opens the door
to coercion. Many soldiers may have to vote on
computers in places where their commanding officers
may be present. They may also be reluctant to
vote their conscience if they know that the Defense
Department could be reading their ballots.
Missouri and North Dakota announcements call attention
to the larger issue of why the Pentagon is directly
handling so many presidential ballots. The Federal
Voting Assistance Program, a unit of the Defense
Department, is charged with helping not only military
voters, but all eligible voters overseas, a total
of about six million people. But it is a fundamental
aspect of the American election system that handling
and counting of votes is supposed to occur at
the local level. The Defense Department should
stop handling actual ballots, and instead help
military and other overseas voters send them directly
to local elections officials.
the 1960 election, there was widespread skepticism
when Mayor Richard Daley waited until hours after
the polls closed to release the Chicago vote,
and it turned out to be almost precisely what
was needed to put Illinois in the Democratic column.
It invites cynicism about our democracy to operate
a system in which employees who answer to the
secretary of defense could control the margin
of victory in a close presidential election.
Posted: September 1, 2004