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Characteristics of a Good Electronic Voting System

Dr Lorrie Faith Cranor 19 of AT&T Labs wrote in 1996, when the impact of Motor Voter was just starting to be felt, that desirable characteristics for electronic polling systems would include accuracy, democracy, privacy, verifiability, convenience, flexibility, and mobility. However, she noted, "By allowing voters to cast their votes from virtually anywhere, we dramatically expand the universe of ineligible people who may attempt to vote." 20 In other words, a highly secure Internet voting system that fulfills all these necessary elements is worthless if registration lapses compromise its security - the new millenium version of "closing the barn door after the horse is out."

Specifically, changes must be made to accommodate the following baseline integrity checks and balances:

Registration - The registrar must assure that each registered voter is qualified and legally competent to vote. However, current legal constraints make this problematic without legislation.

Authentication - Assuming a "clean" registration list, it is also imperative to verify that a voter "presenting" themselves to vote electronically is in fact the same person who has qualified and legally registered.

Privacy - Transmission of votes from the voter to the election center must be guaranteed to be secure. Since the internet is a packet-distributed network, the voting preferences of citizens should not be able to be viewed or altered by sites that lie between the voting location and the vote counting destination.

Verifiable Results - There must be assurance that all votes cast were indeed counted and attributed correctly. As each vote is cast, an unalterable record must be created ensuring a verifiable electronic audit trail.

VIP experience has shown that no election system is foolproof. Each system in use today -- whether manual, mechanical, or electronic - has its weak points. Vote thieves are successful because they can identify such weaknesses and use them to their advantage. Despite this, election administrators can achieve a high level of integrity by recognizing the vulnerabilities in their own systems and building protocols - including the use of independent citizen monitors - to overcome them. What gives pause about Internet voting is the sheer scale of potential for abuse.

19. Dr. Cranor is a Senior Technical Staff Member in the Secure Systems Research Dept at AT&T Labs-Research where she has been involved in a number of Internet voting research projects. Dr. Cranor is also a member of The Voting Integrity Project's National Advisory Board and its Election Systems Committee.

20. "Electronic Voting: Computerized Polls May Save Money, Protect Privacy."

Next Section: Is the Internet Secure Enough for Elections?

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