Voting Integrity Group is Critical of Email Voting in Alaska

Email voting is pretty simple. You fill out a ballot request form, available online. Then the state emails you a ballot and you return it by mail, fax or you can scan it and attach it in PDF form to an email. Lieutenant Governor Mead Treadwell wanted to include that email option after the mother of a soldier approached him in 2010, saying her son was having a difficult time voting from Afghanistan.

“It took a change in some regulations. It took getting a secure system that we bought from this company, Scytl, to be able to receive PDF ballots. But we offered that to soliders beginning a month ago and according to law, to the public, 15 days before the election. And I think people are going to find the convenience refreshing and more and more people will use it.”

Treadwell says the state is sure voters cannot submit a ballot more than once. And he says the ballots are encrypted so they cannot be intercepted as they are being electronically transmitted.

But several voting integrity groups say Internet voting is never 100% secure, even with encrypted PDF ballots. Pamela Smith is President of Verified Voting, a nonpartisan nonprofit that argues against Internet voting. She says even encrypted ballots are not safe:

“It can be tampered with in transit, it can be modified in transit, it can even be lost. And so what is received at the election official’s office may not be the same as what was sent by the voter, and the voter has no way to check what actually was received by the election official.”

Smith says more than two dozen states allow some type of Internet or fax voting for deployed members of the military or overseas citizens. But she says Alaska is the only state she knows of that allows all absentee voters to cast ballots by email.

In an age when most people bank online, it may seem extreme to argue against voting online. But Smith points out banks and online merchants lose billions of dollars a year to online fraud and they can afford to cover those loses.

“How do we indemnify against loses of votes? There’s no bank that’s going to say, we’ll take care of that for you. And you can’t put a dollar value on that vote anyway. The question comes up, how many votes are we willing to lose to online fraud or malfunctions of the system or just the general insecurity of the Internet itself? I think the answer to that has to be zero.”

But Lieutenant Governor Mead Treadwell says he feels strongly enough about the security of the system that he intends to cast his vote by email. He says he’s going to be traveling the day of the election.

But Treadwell says he still believes the best way to vote is to go to the polls on election day:

“We have resisted any attempts to shut down polling places. We’ve resisted attempts to go to only voting by mail for statewide elections. The idea of having a polling place and voting in the traditional manner is something we want to make sure still happens.”

Treadwell says email voting is intended to make it as easy as possible for people to vote, while maintaining full confidence in the election system. He says the University of Alaska is working on a study that will be released soon on every phase of the voting process in Alaska. The main purpose of the study is to make sure state elections can be audited and that there are checks and balances to prevent voter fraud.

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Annie Feidt is the Editor and Producer of Alaska News Nightly, and is also a frequent contributor to the show. Her reporting has taken her searching for polar bears on the Chukchi Sea ice, out to remote checkpoints on the Iditarod Trail, and up on the Eklutna Glacier with scientists studying its retreat. Her stories have been heard nationally on NPR and Marketplace.

Annie’s career in radio journalism began in 1998 at Minnesota Public Radio, where she produced the regional edition of All Things Considered. She moved to Anchorage in 2004 with her husband, intending to stay in the 49thstate just a few years. She has no plans to leave anytime soon.

afeidt (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8443 | About Annie