Rhode Island Governor Signs Law Enabling Internet Voting

Written by Benjamin Freed

Rhode Island Governor Daniel McKee signed legislation last week that would allow some of the state’s registered voters to cast their votes over the Internet, despite concerns from election officials and critics of electronic voting.

the new law, S2118, calls for deployed military personnel, civilians living abroad and people with physical disabilities to receive and submit their ballots via electronic transmission. Although the legislation passed the Rhode Island General Assembly by comfortable margins earlier this year, it drew criticism from election security advocates, who have long said submitting votes over an Internet connection could compromise secret ballots.

“The internet landscape hasn’t really changed much since the early 1990s,” said C. Jay Coles, senior policy officer at Verified Voting. “The Internet was not designed as a safe space.”

Under the new Rhode Island law, eligible voters can request an electronic vote if the Secretary of State approves a system that has undergone “one or more independent security assessments” and meets the cybersecurity framework’s scrutiny that has been published. by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea has used an electronic vendor, Democracy Live, in previous election cycles to send eligible voters their ballots, which were then collected through the mail or drop boxes. Gorbea — who is currently challenging McKee for the Democratic Party governor’s nomination — initially supported the new bill when it was first proposed last year. but dropped her support amid opposition from the state council from elections and outside groups.

Democracy Live’s technology includes the ability to return completed ballots to election officials via a web portal. While Rhode Island has not used that feature in the past, four states allow foreign voters to cast their ballots through a web portal, while more than a dozen others have allowed some voters to return their ballots via fax machine or email, according to the National Association of State Legislators

Democracy Live also hired a former Rhode Island legislator as a state house lobbyist. the Providence Journal reported last month

In a letter Against McKee last week urging the governor to veto the bill, Verified Voting and other groups accused the legislation of being misleading about how voting systems are assessed and certified. While NIST’s cybersecurity guide is considered an industry standard for protecting data, it is the U.S. Election Assistance Committee — an agency not named in Rhode Island law — that certifies voting systems

“The legislation is worded to give a false sense of security,” the letter reads.

To date, Internet voting has been made available in small pilot projects in a handful of states, including: West VirginiaColoradoUtah and Washington† And while those individual cases passed post-election audits, wider skepticism about online voting remains strong.

Both NIST and the EAC signed on a memo from 2020 by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency stating that ballots distributed over the Internet pose “significant security risks to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of ballots that have been voted” that “could be widely manipulated” if intercepted by a malicious actor.

Coles said that now that McKee has signed S2118, Verified Voting and similar groups will urge the Secretary of State not to approve online voting systems.

“We want voters to be able to vote as easily as possible without compromising security,” he said.

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