Fraud will be massive if we let people register online to vote, the doomsayers warned in 2012 as California’s then-Secretary of State Debra Bowen put the finishing touches on software now used by all 58 of the state’s counties.
Those skeptics were wrong. So far, there are no signs of massive fraud or even moderate fraud in use of that online registration system, available to anyone at the secretary of state’s website via registertovote.ca.gov.
This system is now widely accepted, and even in heavily Republican counties with GOP district attorneys, there are very few known cases of false registrations, signups by non-citizens or fake names being registered online.
Now comes an initiative aiming for a spot on the November ballot that would take online voter registration much farther, authorizing actual voting via the Internet.
Doomsayers have many of the same objections today as in 2012, and this time they may be correct.
The new plan is largely the result of abysmally low voter turnouts in the last few elections, including the 2014 statewide polling that re-elected Gov. Jerry Brown to his fourth (and presumably final) term, but involved no contests for U.S. Senate seats and few close races elsewhere. With little interesting to consider, many thousands of voters didn’t bother and alarm bells rang across the political spectrum.
Democrats fear low turnouts because their voters can’t be counted on to participate as certainly as Republican adherents. So Democrats rightly fear that a low turnout could cost them some significant offices and cause important policy changes.
This makes them willing to do almost anything to increase voter turnouts, including the current push for online voting.
Backers insist votes can be made secure and encrypted in ways that are almost impossible to hack. But the same was said of electronic voting machines. That was before Bowen conducted her “top to bottom” review of those gadgets and essentially ordered almost all of them scrapped or resold to other states and countries because of the ease with which votes cast on them could be “flipped.”
Exit polling in 2004 in Ohio, where the owner of Diebold Election Systems, then the largest voting machine maker, was also the state chairman of then-President George W. Bush’s state reelection campaign and “guaranteed” his man would carry the state, indicated there could have been massive vote-flipping there. Democrats have long believed Ohio cost current Secretary of State John Kerry the presidency, and Diebold was indicted there in 2014 for a “worldwide pattern of criminal conduct.”
This history, plus the fact that foreign hackers have invaded the computers of almost every American government agency and many large corporations with supposedly foolproof firewalls, makes it highly incredible to say voting can be made completely secure online with today’s technology.
Yet, that would not stop the demand for online voting if the current proposal makes the November ballot and passes. This measure would require Secretary of State Alex Padilla either to develop an online voting system by the end of next year, or contract with someone else to do it.
Any such system would be tested first in local elections. But organized hackers would probably lay off online votes cast in local races that mean little to them, allowing election officials to trumpet the “safety” of what they’ve created.
Of course, all the while they might well know how to hack that system, but lurk in the background until it’s time to flip the vote in an election that mattered to them – like one for president, U.S. senator or a key proposition.
Anyone who expects hackers working for political manipulators to go after every election would be a fool. A clever vote-flipping operation – like the one Diebold may have conducted 12 years ago in Ohio – would wait for a vitally important race that could be switched around with relatively few votes. That would allow the manipulators to remain inconspicuous and ready to act again whenever they like.
Which means only a fool would support any move to put voting online, where there’s no hope for a countable “paper trail” of the sort that Bowen began requiring about a decade ago.
Thomas D. Elias writes the syndicated California Focus column.