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Why I Don’t Trust Online Voting

Posted by susabelle at 2:19 PM on June 24, 2010

Every fall, we start to hear about a bigger push for online voting for our major elections.  I am one of those in the category of being firmly against online voting.  There is too much room for things to go dreadfully wrong, with even less hope of fixing a problem if one occurs.

I mean, we can’t even get online polls right, for the most part, even if procedures and methods are in place to prevent spamming the vote count.  This week’s controversy involves Oprah Winfrey’s “Your OWN Show” contest, a voting event that allows visitors to the site to submit votes for different people who’d like to compete for their own show on Oprah’s new television network, OWN, set to launch next year.  For several hours, a particular contestant’s vote button script was “different” than the other contestants, allowing her to rack up votes at 1923 votes per minute, bringing her quickly and questionably in the lead.  Oprah’s people are, of course, “investigating” the incident, and the script has been adjusted to match the other contestants’ scripts, thereby leveling the playing field.

But who’s to say that the script couldn’t be altered again, for one contestant or another?  This kind of hacking is not particularly difficult, it seems, which leaves these types of contest open to all kinds of discrepancies in actual numbers.  Anyone who watches and votes for American Idol knows what an unfair process it is; a single person can send in as many votes in the overnight hours as they want through SMS messages from their cell phone.  Each vote is not necessarily a unique person.

And even if the intent is to keep the votes to one per person, there are always ways around that, and I don’t see online official voting to be immune from such practices.  There is always a way to hack, always a way to game the system.  Online voting for our government officials doesn’t sound any more legitimate than all the “voting” on websites to rank web pages or choose winners of contests.

And honestly, I don’t know that we’ll ever get to a point where we can trust online voting for elected officials.  It just doesn’t seem possible.

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