Voting Online Would Mean Giving Up Your Legal Right to Privacy

The right to an anonymous vote is a cornerstone of the U.S. democratic process, and yet voters’ personal data is one of the most highly sought-after commodities in politics. Names, contact details, and affiliations are incredibly easy to access without the help of an online vote.

As more and more of our daily lives are translated online, many have wondered if it’s possible to digitally transform the voting process. Spoiler alert: it’s not.

As Vocativ explains, the states that offer online voting usually reserve this option for absentee voters and overseas military members, and while this may seem considerate, there are technical limitations for authenticating votes which require voters to voluntarily to waive their right to cast a secret vote online.

The personal data privacy risks associated with casting a ballot online are enormous.

Computer and network security experts are also quick to point out how an online voting system would present a much greater threat to the integrity of U.S. elections.

Though some might argue that an online voting system would be as simple as banking or shopping online, consider this:

  • E-commerce transactions are not actually “safe”. They are very risky, and are quickly becoming even more risky each day. These same risks would similarly apply to online voting “transactions.”
  • Technical requirements for voting would be entirely different from, and far more rigorous than, E-commerce transactions (i.e. security, privacy, and transparency regulations). Even if E-commerce transactions were safe, the security technology still wouldn’t support online voting.

Even if we could build an online voting system, such a thing would need to be so trusted and so secure that Americans could stake their elections on it, and while data privacy isn’t something we think about regularly, it’s worth noting the more recent foreign data breaches of the DNC and Office of Personnel Management.

A study called At Risk: Recommendations for Protecting Democracy proposes several solutions that involve circumventing online transmission of votes, but allowing for additional leeway with the timeliness of casting ballots, but as it stands today, online voting is a bit of a pipe dream with no foreseeable implementation in the near future.