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Experts warn online voting will not be as secure as online banking, but they are asking the wrong question

Jason Wojciechowski
Last Updated: September 15th, 2020

Timothy B. Lee investigated secure internet voting for Ars Technica and ended up breaking down the differences that make online banking more secure and verifiable than voting.

Key Differences

  • Voting is anonymous and banking is not.
  • There’s a paper trail.Bank customers can match transaction records and see if the exact amount listed on their check for example is in their account. A voter-verifiable paper trail does not exist.
  • Money can be followed to see where it ends up. There is a forensic trail. Vote hacking would involve simply switching votes between candidates making the source harder to track.
  • Online banking isn’t actually that secure. Credit card fraud cost $28 billion in 2018. Banks are willing to tolerate a even absorb a high level of fraud, but any level of election hacking could throw entire result into question.

But we should be looking at ATMs vs voting. That is a more of a useful apples to apples comparison. Bank touchscreens will email a receipt and print one. A printed receipt makes voting secure on touchscreen. But Pennsylvania could not have a recount in 2016 because their touchscreens didn’t printout a paper backup paper ballot.

We may have anonymity on who you cast your vote for, but who votes and party affiliation is public information in most states. When not public, political parties and candidates have access. And many mail-in-voting systems let voters check that their vote has been counted. States like Oregon give voters tracking information so they can see if there were any problems with their ballot. The system won’t tell people which candidates their vote counted for, but there is piece of mind in knowing the ballot was received and valid.


Why online voting is harder than online banking

A common argument for online voting doesn’t actually make sense.

Timothy B. Lee  —Ars Technica

Most Pa. voting machines are old, hackable, and will likely be used to count the 2020 votes

Pennsylvania ranks second in the nation for the number of registered voters casting ballots on older, hackable machines with no paper trail. At a time when elections may be in peril from foreign interference, counties are slow to update their vulnerable equipment.

Katlyn Alo and Jackie Botts, For the Inquirer  —The Philadelphia Inquirer


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