Alaska's Election Nightmare

Photo: Rick Bowmer/AP

Photo: Rick Bowmer/AP

[Thousands of voters have used] Alaska’s first-in-the-nation internet voting system. And according to internet security experts, including the former top cybersecurity official for the Department of Homeland Security, that system is a security nightmare that threatens to put control of the U.S. Congress in the hands of foreign or domestic hackers.

Any registered Alaska voter can obtain an electronic ballot, mark it on their computers using a web-based interface, save the ballot as a PDF, and return it to their county elections department through what the state calls “a dedicated secure data center behind a layer of redundant firewalls under constant physical and application monitoring to ensure the security of the system, voter privacy, and election integrity.”

That sounds great, but even the state acknowledges in an online disclaimer that things could go awry, warning that “when returning the ballot through the secure online voting solution, your are voluntarily waving [sic] your right to a secret ballot and are assuming the risk that a faulty transmission may occur.”

That disclaimer is a pre-emptive admission of failure, says Bruce McConnell, who served until 2013 as the top cybersecurity officer for DHS. “They admit that they are not taking responsibility for the validity of the system,” McConnell told The Intercept. “They’re saying, ‘Your vote may be counted correctly, incorrectly, or may not be counted at all, and we are not taking any responsibility for that.’ That kind of disclaimer would be unacceptable if you saw it on the wall of a polling place.”

In 2012, Alaska became the first state to permit internet balloting for all voters, and no problems were reported during the system’s first deployment. But there weren’t any high-profile races then, and Alaska wasn’t an electoral factor in the presidential race.

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