Internet Voting in Public Elections

Wednesday, February 16, 2000 - 17:30
TH 331
David Jefferson Compaq Systems Research Center

In recent months public interest has been growing in systems for online voting, online voter registration, and online petition signing. The Secretary of State of California recently appointed a task force to study the issues, and a report will be published in the second week in January, 2000, available via the Secretary of State's page. This talk will summarize the technical issues addressed in that report: security, privacy, failure tolerance, and availability.

One major conclusion is that Internet voting systems must be divided into two fundamental classes:

(a) those in which the election officials control the voting infrastructure on the client side, including the client hardware, software, and the LANs they are connected to; and

(b) those in which the voter or a 3rd party controls the client environment, e.g. voting from PCs at home, office, university, hotel, etc.

Systems of type (a) are technically managable today, and may appear in California as soon as November, 2000, at least on a trial basis. On the other hand, systems of type (b) are vulnerable to Trojan horse attacks for which there are today no good technical solutions that are both effective and convenient enough for voters. Such systems should not be fielded until there is progress on the fundamental problem of managing malicious code.


David Jefferson is a Senior Member of the Research Staff at Compaq Systems Research Center in Palo Alto, CA, where he has been doing research on the use of the Internet in public elections for over five years. Recently he served as the chair of the technical committee for the California Secretary of State's Internet Voting Task Force. He is also a Director, and former Chairman of the Board, of the California Voter Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to a more informed and engaged California electorate, especially through use of the Internet. Prior to joining Compaq he was for many years a professor of computer science, first at the University of Southern California and then at UCLA, where he conducted research in parallel computation, and numerous other fields.