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Poll: Would you vote online if you could?
31 points by breck 1511 days ago | hide | past | web | 54 comments | favorite
In your next government election if you could fill out your ballot as an online form would you?
349 points
71 points

Of course. I already 'vote online' in the sense that I have to sit down with my absentee ballot and spend like 5 hours googling all the down-ticket candidates.

If everybody voted like me, SEO would become the linchpin of our democracy, because I only have like 5-10 minutes to devote to each choice. Obama vs Romney is obvious, most of the lower-level candidates are people I've never heard of.

(I think this is the problem that political parties are supposed to solve, but don't in the USA, since generally there are only two viable ones which both suck balls.)

A better option would be to give every candidate a list of questions about their positions on certain issues. Use the users answers and the answers from the candidates to rank the results.

This bad thing about this approach is that it's likely to have questions focused on hot button issues like gay marriage, gun control, abortion, etc. When most of those issues are a complete distraction from actual important issues like campaign finance reform, universal healthcare, taxes, defense spending, national security, constitutional rights, government transparency and accountability, prevention of gerry-mandering and other forms of political corruption or willful distortion, etc.

There is a service that comes close to this for elections in Switzerland [0]: you take a survey on how you stand on many issues (and not just the most polarizing ones) and it shows you how the candidates compare, who is closest to your views, etc., using some good visualizations [1]. One thing that explains their success is that, at least in major elections, they manage to get almost all the candidates to use their platform and build their profile.

[0] smartvote.ch. There is no major election coming up so the site may not be the most interesting at the moment.

[1] http://www.mullzk.ch/blog/uploads/smartspider_juso.png

>most of the lower-level candidates are people I've never heard of.

I've had cases where I can't even find any information at all about any of the candidates for a given office/post. Not even a simple Wordpress blog or facebook page or anything. In those cases I end up not voting for that office/post.

I'd really like to see https://wash.livingvotersguide.org/ deployed on a national scale. (As in available nationally, but including all levels of government.)

[This may come across as tounge-in-cheek, but I'm quite serious]

I voted yes, but I hope that there will always be people in the community who desire physical polling stations. The reason is that as much as I am disillusioned about politics here in Australia, I am looking forward to the upcoming federal election for one reason:

Garage Sales (Yard Sales if you're from the U.S.)

A couple of elections ago my brother and I (who both love garage sales) realised that if you drive around each of the local polling stations, then there is a huge number of garage sales. As it happens, if you live near a polling station - mostly primary schools around our area - and you want to hold a garage sale when the greatest number of people are going to walk past your house, people tend to pick polling day.

Therefore, we've made a bit of an election pilgrimage to various garage sales. We've affectionately dubbed the term "Garage sailing".

For me it's the sausage sizzles and I know I'm not alone : http://www.electionsausagesizzle.com.au/

Nothing says democracy like a snag on some white bread with tommy sauce.

Well, there's always this kind of thing: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deliberation_Day

I'm from the U.S., and to my knowledge "Garage Sale" is the common term. Maybe in places where garages are not very common it is called a "Yard Sale"?

Ah, that's good to know. Must be my inferior and incorrect pop culture references that told me "Yard sale".

FWIW: Google Fight has "Garage sale" smashing "Yard sale" [0] while Urban Dictionary has almost twice as many definitions of "Yard sale" to "Garage sale"

[0] http://www.googlefight.com/index.php?lang=en_GB&word1=%22gar...

Online voting has been used on a significant scale in several places, including Estonia, Gujarat, and some cantons in Switzerland. I'm not an expert on how well (or poorly) these experiments have gone, but the following article contains a lot of useful information and pointers:


Estonia was apparently the first country to allow internet voting in a general election. Participation has grown rapidly, with roughly a quarter of votes in the last parliamentary election being cast online:


This suggests that a large fraction of the population are unlikely to care about the theoretical considerations that are dominating the discussion elsewhere in this thread.

Voting by mobile phone is also now legal in Estonia.

The latest Python source code for the servers in the Estonian voting system is available on GitHub:


Incidentally, I got a smile out of the sampling bias inherent in this poll! It would have been even funnier if the question was "Would you ever take part in an online poll?"

It could be perfectly secure. Simply snail-mail a 128 bit one-time key pad to every voter.

After the vote, the Government releases the results as a mapping of [one-time-pad -> vote] for everyone to verify their vote.

Anyway for further reading, this is a good piece on the issue: http://www.theverge.com/2012/10/11/3479170/why-cant-you-vote...

Edit: When you voted you would need to post your ssn also for verification that you are the one using your one-time key-pad, etc.

> Anyway for further reading, this is a good piece on the issue: http://www.theverge.com/2012/10/11/3479170/why-cant-you-vote...

I immediately felt compelled to text-search for "Estonia" and was pleased to see it was covered.

How to you prevent the one time pad from getting intercepted in the mail? If one was intercepted, the person could report it, but then what prevents a nefarious third-party from reporting yours as stolen close enough to the election that you won't get a replacement in time?

Maybe you could pick up your one time pad in person at any US Post Office in the days or weeks preceding the election. You'd have to show valid government issued ID to pick up your sealed one time pad.

Aren't "verifiable voting" and "private voting" mutually exclusive? If I can verify my vote than I can also be forced to reveal my vote to a third party who is trying to coerce me to vote a certain way, or to purchase my vote.

> Aren't "verifiable voting" and "private voting" mutually exclusive?


> If I can verify my vote than I can also be forced to reveal my vote to a third party who is trying to coerce me to vote a certain way, or to purchase my vote.

Untrue. You can only be forced to do so if the third party has a way of confirming that the verification information you've given them is correct for your vote.

Not if each person holds the key to their own vote. You can only verify your own vote with your key even though the results are public.

If you could verify everyone's vote, then you'd be correct.

I believe homomorphic encryption would address this.

> Simply snail-mail a 128 bit one-time key pad to every voter.

Cool. Who do you think would pay me the most for my pad?

Absolutely not. Until cryptographically-sound voting systems are pervasive and well-vetted, there is absolutely no hope of making online balloting both reliable and secret.

Will something like this work?

1. Voter (physically) visits a station, presents his ID and picks an auth token out of a hat (or some other physical, non-traceable method) -- say a paper scratch card with only a randomly generated number.

2. Voter goes home and uses the token to anonymously authenticate himself as a voting citizen and participates in one or more rounds of voting


1. Voter misplaces his card and has to come back to the station to identify himself and revoke & re-issue.

2. In some neighborhoods, voter has to beat back thugs trying to steal his card on his way out of the issuing station.


1. Voters have regular online accounts with their credentials attached.

2. Source code dealing with vote counting and anonymizing is made open source and publicly readable at the hosted directory itself (if such thing is even possible)


1. Hackers study the source code and exploits vulnerabilities.

2. Server serves the good copy when source code is requested, but executes a different copy that collects voter identities.

Note: not an expert, just asking.

schainks linked to a video you should watch. Finding theoretically secure systems is not the problem. Properly implementing them, vetting the implementation, and gathering the political will to mandate the properly vetted implementation is the problem.

As always, the weakest link in security is the human factor.

have you seen this Ted Talk: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=izddjAp_N4I

It's not totally "user friendly", but I'd say it's a huge step towards "secure and reliable" voting.

I know of various proposals that offer a theoretical solution. The problem is getting it implemented, fully vetting the implementation, and getting everybody to use it.

There were lots of ways we could have made touchscreen voting machines highly secure. Instead we gave Diebold millions of dollars.

I have no reason to believe that sound security principles will be followed by any large organization, including governments, in my lifetime.

In case anyone is wondering about security issues, there is a course[1] on Coursera, starting again in October, about that taught by J. Alex Halderman.


But can you do it in a way that the people can inspect the system to see that they're not being taken advantage of, and that either/any side is being fair?

Exactly. Physical polling places allow truly secret votes. Another party cannot see who you voted for, which hinders coercion, bribery, etc.

In the perspective of an American, the primary concern is authenticity, and there's a high probability of that when you have to show up in person or request an absentee ballot. Not that I support more government programs to identify citizens, but I'd think should be some sort of PIN number or password issuance process during the issuance of things like driver's licenses, state IDs, passport numbers, Social Security cards, IRS filings, etc.

Government cannot run a program that elects a new government behind the walls of a datacenter. It's a major conflict of interest. The way things work now, the government really only handles the voter registration process, which is exposed enough so you know they're not messing with it. County employees and poll workers on-site are far enough removed from the people in power that there's little concern of major corruption. When recounts happen, staff from both campaigns are physically present to look at each ballot. When we get ballot counting machines from companies like Diebold, there's concern that a big corporation could be influencing a vote or that the system wouldn't be secure.

But I look at some of the things happening with health insurance marketplaces and health data exchanges as proof that government can tackle big tech problems in cool ways. The State of New York is building a health information network (Google: NYeC SHIN-NY) where all medical providers in the state have their electronic health records connected in a statewide network. It's not the government itself running the program, but a collaborative of government and healthcare people. The service doesn't store or transmit private health information, it just handles the secure handshakes, authorization, and authenticity. That is, a patient can grant/deny access to medical records from their phone -- or in an emergency situation, an EMT can bypass that and get the records directly. I think this is genius.

If we looked at something like this on a local or state level, a collaborative of sorts could include the Secretary of State, various government and non-profit representatives, and open source and security folks. I think that would be the first step toward moving to an online voting system: setup an entity that people can trust.

Obviously, it'd have to be optional. There were a lot of elderly folks at my polling place last November, proudly wearing their 'I Voted' sticker. No way they'd go online, even if it did support IE 5.5.

I wonder if there's some way to be transparent in an electronic / online voting system. Maybe the government sends a UUID or hash to your email after you vote, and later releases a dataset of which UUIDs voted for which candidates. This way, you can verify that your vote was counted and that all votes sum correctly.

The problem with that entity is what form of authenticity they request. They may ask for finger prints or a special voter id similar to the DoD's. I prefer that IT proctors each confirm authenticity with 30 or so voters holding up a piece of paper and an issued hash on a 32" screen.

The real problem is, why should I trust some online voting on some web site on a computer I know nothing about.

It is the hole voting computer debate again.

Thankfully such a system would be impossible in Germany. Because it is impossible to make as transparent as it has to be so that people who have no idea about computers can understand it and see that it is working correctly.

Because the US has no national voting system, and because there are over 4600 voting jurisdictions in the US, and because the mechanics and rules and procedures around voting are left to the states and local municipalities, it seems to me that if someone put code up on github that could theoretically enable secure, anonymous online voting, and then, if a certain voting jurisdiction were interested, they could set it up for their voters and offer it as an option to them. Seems that some plucky voting jurisdictions needs to just try it out. It seems like a big problem, but it's not really, it's just about getting a few jurisdictions that rely heavily on absentee ballots to offer an online option, one that is secure and implemented in a transparent way.

This is some interesting copy from a company called "safevote" I came across when googling whether there were any laws against online voting... because I almost said, "It's not like there are any laws preventing US citizens from voting online..." but I wanted to be sure. Anyway the link:


So, we can be voting online. Yes we can! hahaha. groan.


I know that most major points have already been covered. But here're my 2 cents in a nutshell:

1. An online actions can never be as secret/anonymous as a physical actions. This much we've definitely learned from all the recent surveillance news. Obviously ballot secrecy is critical to fair elections.

2. Online ballots would be much more suspectible to manipulation than physical ballots would ever be. If a private contractor were hired to do this (i.e., how current election software are already commissioned), detection of manipulation would be difficult, and accountability difficult to ensure.

3. There would be the problem of authentication, as others have pointed out. This would make the recount process even more contentious and uncertain than it is now.

A truly secure online voting system for national elections would be one of the most significant inventions of all time. It could change the political landscape on a massive scale, giving power to those who can't make it to the polls for a variety of reasons (physical handicaps; lack of time or energy; fear of intimidation in some politically unstable countries).

I've been following the Caltech / MIT Voting Technology project for a while now because they've put out some interesting papers about the potential impacts of e-voting: http://www.vote.caltech.edu/

Online voting is kind of like nuclear power.

Theoretically? Totally for it.

In reality, do I have confidence that the US government is capable of ensuring that the systems are soundly designed, with reasonable accountability and risk mitigation, and deployed fairly and competently? No, I am absolutely not confident about that.

Edit: that's not to say I am necessarily against it, just that I have deep misgivings about the implementation and the ability of the government, as it currently stands, to reflect the interests of the citizenry instead of corrupt special interests.

What irritates me the most is that voting system source code is maintained by "security through obscurity". It makes more sense to me if we require voting systems to be open source and have some government body or 3rd party that's an expert in security approve systems as "secure". People seem to trust LEED certified buildings, so why don't we have the same accountability for voting systems?

I bet people would be happy if the NSA used tax dollars to do that kind of public good.

Wow, what a crackpot post....

An idea (would love some reasoned arguments against): so much of our policy-making (around the world, I'm UK based) is based on electing someone on a bunch of promises and then letting them get on with it.

We have to kick up a HUGE fuss to get anything changes (see SOPA etc.), but there are platforms beginning to emerge, like the whitehouse petitions.

How far are we from a system whereby major referendums can be held relatively frequently, mainly online? People can be given a brief for/against argument of some proposed change, they can research as much as they feel they have to, and then can vote?

Do we exclude too many non-technical people that way? Can we assume people even give enough of a crap to do this?

I'd rather have a more effectively accountable representative democracy (which, compared to the US, most established democracies have) than use vastly expanded direct democracy as an attempt to work around poorly accountable representatives on a national scale the way California already -- without online voting -- has done for quite a while on the state level.

Yes, absolutely. Voting is an easy activity to do physically and maps well to the online space. I also have a hard time finding the time to physically go to the polls for each election. It's hard to go out for more than the "Big Elections" such as the presidential ones.

Fraud would be problematic and difficult identify specific people. Another worry would be people misunderstanding the ballot or clicking the wrong thing or multiple submissions. I'm just glad, at the moment, that I can register online. That's a good start.

No: there is no way to guarantee anonymous, non-corruptible and traceable way to vote. Unless you trust the government ... which has been proven to be untrustworthy.

Not secure enough. Especially if it's done by a government contractor that half-asses it and still runs off with hundreds of millions of dollars for the job.

Especially when dealing with such a waste of paper as the Australian Senate ballot paper... http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-08-22/size-matters3a-voters-...

I think the bottleneck isn't the willingness of the people to do it but of the government to manage it.

While the most obvious online voting schemes are bad, it's an opportunity to make it more secure than the current slate of computerized voting machines, which were generally ridiculous last I looked. (Far worse than paper ballots.)

The question of security is an interesting one. There is nothing but laws stopping someone from opening, reading and modifying paper ballot papers, should online be different? Do we really have a transparent system now?

I would use online voting even if the system would be insecure.

The advantages are just to great to ignore. Also, people seem to think that our current physical system is perfect.

It's far from perfect.

Yes and No are my only choices? It would depend on how it was implemented. Surely almost no one here would use it if it appeared to be insecure.

What advantage would this have over existing systems such as petitions.whitehouse.gov and USPS letters to Santa?

if it was just replaced regular votes, not much.

However, if you perfected the system, presumably people could vote on more issues. Declaring war for example.

Do we have reason to believe that the majority was/is not in favor of recent/ongoing wars?

I voted yes but then realized: there would be no more privacy in elections.

Only if it was audited to hell and back.

more interestingly, would you vote on more issues if you could do it online?

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