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Online voting is a security concern. So why are some Americans voting that way?

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

You can bank online. You file taxes online. So what about voting online? NPR voting correspondent Miles Parks gets that question a lot, and so he joins us now to answer it. Hey, Miles.

MILES PARKS, BYLINE: Hey, good morning.

FADEL: Good morning. So it's 2023. Why can't people vote online?

PARKS: Basically, voting is just really different than all - basically all other online transactions.

FADEL: Yeah.

PARKS: And a big reason for that is your right to a secret ballot. You know, if you have a wrong credit card charge, for instance, you will see that on your statement. But you can't just go back and check the way that you vote, right?

FADEL: Right.

PARKS: And so that makes it really hard to make sure votes haven't been changed. There are a number of other technical reasons that the cybersecurity community hasn't figured out, things like malware, denial of service attacks. And then you add in the bigger picture - think about just how hard it would be to fight back against claims of fraud, for instance, if there wasn't a paper trail. I talked to William Adler at the Center for Democracy and Technology, and he told me it's really not an issue that's up for debate.

WILLIAM ADLER: Basically, every election security expert agrees that we should not have lots of people voting over the internet. The DHS, FBI, the National Academies of Sciences - they've all agreed on this point. And there's really more agreement on this point than almost anything else in election security.

FADEL: Yeah. I mean, I'm just thinking about my own bank account that got hacked. Well, I got the money back, but what happens if that happens to your vote? So do experts think Americans will ever be able to vote online?

PARKS: So this is actually where it gets more interesting.

FADEL: OK.

PARKS: Everyone pretty much agrees this is an insecure way to vote, but it is already happening.

FADEL: What?

PARKS: In 2020 - in the 2020 presidential election, more than 300,000 people voted online using email, fax or an online portal.

FADEL: OK, so this insecure way of voting is already happening here?

PARKS: Yes. U.S. voters are using it. No one really talks about this, but more than 30 states allow some form of internet voting, specifically for military and overseas voters. And then a number - a few other states allow it for voters with disabilities, too. Just to be clear, almost all voters - people who are listening to this - are required to vote with a paper ballot...

FADEL: Yeah.

PARKS: ...And those are usually almost always counted by a machine that is not connected to the internet. But there are these select few populations that have been allowed to vote on the internet, and these are populations that traditionally have had a lot of trouble getting to the polling place or using the mail system.

FADEL: Well, that makes sense - accessibility. But if it's such an insecure way to vote, why do some states allow it?

PARKS: There's really two answers. I mean, essentially, states are giving up some security for that accessibility. But another key point is that a lot of these laws allowing it were passed before there was a great understanding of the risks of the internet. Think pre-2010...

FADEL: OK.

PARKS: ...In a lot of cases, pre-2000. And then one expert told me essentially, because a lot of states already allow it, some other states look at that and say, hey, this must be, you know, reasonably secure. Michigan, for instance, just passed a law recently allowing it for military voters.

FADEL: So what does this mean then for the future of internet voting? Is this going to keep expanding, like we saw in Michigan?

PARKS: So most election experts do think this is coming for the wider population at some point, but not anytime soon. Even the most open-minded experts say this is going to be a while. The trend lately is back towards more paper ballots. But there are a few people in the U.S. pushing this forward, specifically this guy named Bradley Tusk. He was Uber's first political adviser, and he spent a lot of money trying to push this thing forward. He's - his organization is actually developing a new internet voting system that they're trying to roll out for some voters as soon as next year. For the average voter, I'd say do not expect to vote on the internet anytime soon, at least in the next few election cycles.

FADEL: NPR's Miles Parks. Thanks, Miles.

PARKS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Miles Parks is a reporter on NPR's Washington Desk. He covers voting and elections, and also reports on breaking news.
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