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Election officials still skeptical about online voting

by Stephanie Sunata
Nov 07, 2012


Stephanie Sunata/MEDILL

Brandi Schiff fills out a ballot for a voter on Tuesday in the Loop.  Chicago still uses paper forms counted by a machine because is is more reliable and verifiable than online systems, according to the city's board of elections.

Though a Chicago Board of Elections website crashed on election day, officials still look to technological advances to make voter registration and election day check-in more accessible in the future.

“Unprecedented” amounts of traffic, mostly concentrated in the morning, caused to malfunction as people checked for their polling places, Chicago Board of Elections spokesman Jim Allen said.

The site was up and running later in the day. But though the Chicago election board wants to implement the Internet in additional areas of the voting process, casting ballots is not one of them, Allen said.

Election officials and computer science scholars express concerns about the security of online voting.

Douglas Jones, associate computer science professor at the University of Iowa, said there is no current technology he trusts to run a U.S. election.

“Online voting is a very dangerous thing to put in place with the technology we have right now,” Jones said.

He has analyzed voting technology since the 1990s and said Internet voting contains the same risks of regular voting combined with online banking.

An online voting system is vulnerable to hacking, which is more common than many people realize, he said.

“We always have to be a little skeptical of technology, even though we have to rely on it,” Jones said.

Though online voting isn’t a likely option in Chicago, technology could be used for other purposes in the election process, Allen said.

Chicago introduced an online registration system that automatically fills out the registration form once a voter inputs information online, Allen said.

Illinois state law requires voter registration forms to have a “wet signature,” which means voters must still print and manually sign the document, he said.

The board is currently working with legislators to change this law, an attempt to take the whole registration process online, Allen said.

The Internet could also help expedite check-in at the polls. Electronic poll books could be cost effective and could include troubleshooting information for election judges, he said.

If a person arrives at the wrong polling place, an election judge could use this system to look up the correct location, he said, instead of the current system that requires judges to call the election center and check.

Election judges experienced large volumes of these calls, for many people arrived at the wrong poll because of the redistricting that took effect this election.

The overall election went smoothly and the voters were understanding about these bumps in the road, Allen said.

“We appreciate how patient all our voters were,” he said.

Presidential races see more voters than other elections, and this year the turnout was about 74 percent of the about 1.2 million voters registered in Chicago. This is comparable to years past, but unlike in other cycles, most people this year voted in the morning, Allen said.

“We never experienced, in any election, traffic like this,” Allen said.

The website traffic was redirected to the state election site on the morning of election day so voters could look up their polling locations.

The election board reconfigured the system and made changes to the server to get the city site up by the afternoon, Allen said.

“We’re confident the system will be more robust in the future,” he said.

Loop resident Enrique Santiago said he was going to use the site, but abandoned that idea when he heard there were issues.

Santiago made it to his polling station at 1 S. Franklin St. because there were flyers posted in his apartment building.

At the polls the voting process was quick, but the paper ballots did seem “old fashioned,” Santiago said.

“I feel like we have the technology to do something better, like online,” he said.

Allen said the Chicago Board of Elections like the paper ballot system it uses because it is verifiable and effective in recount situations.