Pentagon scraps plan for online voting in 2004 elections

By David McGlinchey

February 5, 2004

The Pentagon has canceled plans to allow military personnel to vote online in the November 2004 presidential elections, a Defense Department spokeswoman said Thursday.

Defense officials still expect to eventually use an online voting system, according to the spokeswoman. The program was being put in place to allow military personnel and some civilians stationed overseas to vote.

"We've decided not use it in the November election. It was done in view of the inability to ensure the legitimacy of votes that would be cast using this program," the spokeswoman said. "The deputy secretary [Paul Wolfowitz] said he would reconsider his decision in the future, but only if the integrity of the election results can be ensured."

A group of four computer scientists criticized the Secure Electronic Registration and Voting Experiment in a Jan. 20 report. The scientists were invited by the Pentagon to critique the program, and they alleged that the SERVE system has numerous "security problems that leave it vulnerable to a variety of well-known cyberattacks."

The program was expected to serve only about 100,000 voters, according to the scientists' report.

Barbara Simons, former president of the Association for Computing Machinery and one of the report's authors, said that the Pentagon made the correct move.

"I applaud the DOD for making the right decision," Simons said. "We share their desire to make sure that our servicemen and women have an opportunity to vote and have their votes counted."

The Pentagon spokeswoman said that she could not comment on whether the report led directly to the cancellation decision.

According to the spokeswoman, the Pentagon is not focused completely on the SERVE program. Defense officials are currently investigating other technology that would allow military personnel overseas to securely cast their votes online, the spokeswoman said.

Simons said she is willing to lend her expertise to evaluate future Pentagon online voting systems.

By David McGlinchey

February 5, 2004