Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Isabella Democrats Challenge Internet Voting for Presidential Primary

When Michigan Democrats begin choosing their next President one of the methods they may use to vote is the Internet. Isabella County Democrats are now saying that could be a tragic mistake that could embarrass the Michigan Democratic Party.

At a special meeting of the Isabella County Democratic Party on June 13 where Internet Voting was the only topic on the agenda, a resolution in opposition to Internet Voting was adopted. The very detailed resolution claims Internet voting does not meet minimum requirements for safety and transparency and is backed with evidence from the world's best scientists in that area who say Internet voting is not yet a reliable way to vote.

The ICDP approved resolution was prepared by Dr. Charles Novitski, a CMU associate professor, scientist and researcher in many areas including science policy. Novitski cites a 2004 study by computer security experts who were so critical of a Pentagon plan to allow deployed troops to use the Internet to vote that the plan was abandoned. Novitski also cites more recent testimony by some of those same scientists that nothing has changed in three years that would change their earlier conclusions that Internet voting is much too unsafe.

The Isabella Democrats are so concerned about Michigan being the only state using Internet voting they are asking MDP Chairman Mark Brewer to put plans for Internet voting on hold. The ICDP has also asked the national Democratic Party with a letter to national chair, Howard Dean, to convene an independent expert panel similar to the 2004 Pentagon review to look at the issue to see if Internet voting is a viable option that should be deployed in 2008.

Novitski says highly competent political operatives like Mark Brewer are not scientists and should not pretend they are by making claims that Internet voting is safe and reliable. Brewer and other Democrats ignore real science at great risk, the CMU prof added. Novitski has detailed studies showing how Republicans and specifically, the Bush administration, have ignored and even vilified scientific findings on drug safety, global warming and other areas. He says he not surprised when Republicans ignore science but is stunned that Democrats would ignore scientific findings about Internet voting.

Isabella Democrats who know Novitski and his conscientious research and meticulous teachings on science policy have gotten solidly behind the effort to challenge the state party on Internet voting.

What state party officials seem to be doing is akin to believing a used car salesman that the car you are about to buy is just fine, and then refusing to take it to be checked out by your independent mechanic even after neighbors say they sold that car to the dealer and they know it needs very expensive repairs.

Below is an FAQ about the issue as the ICDP sees it and the entire 13-page resolution is available here on the ICDP website.

FAQ (frequently asked questions) about ICDP involvement

in campaign to stop Internet voting

Q1. Why is the ICDP involved in this effort?

A1. Because the ICDP is fortunate to have many members of our organization who are scientists who are employed by CMU. One of the scientists is Dr. Charles Novitski who began researching the science behind Internet voting. Novitski teaches a course on science policy and has done extensive research in that area. After a review of the literature on Internet voting, Dr. Novitski felt compelled to bring this to our attention after his initial efforts to bring the issue to state and national party officials fell on deaf ears.

Q2. What action did ICDP take?

A2. A special meeting to discuss this single issue was announced and held on Wednesday, June 13 where Dr. Novitski presented some of his findings along with a very detailed resolution in opposition to Internet voting. At that meeting the resolution was discussed, questions were asked and answered and many changes were recommended, but the arguments were clear and convincing that our state party is wrong about Internet voting. The vote was overwhelming and unanimous in favor of the Novitski resolution as modified.

Q3. Didn't we already have Internet voting at the 2004 Michigan Democratic Party primary caucus as one of our choices?

A3. Yes, but in 2004 our national candidate had already effectively been selected because Michigan's primary was so late in the year. The few questions about Internet voting were not taken seriously at that time because it really wasn't a very important issue that would have any major impact on the outcome and the MDP took pride in being an innovative early-adopter organization.

Q4. What is the case against Internet voting?

A4. The case is long and detailed and spelled out in the ICDP passed resolution. We recommend that anyone who cares about our state party go through at least part of it to understand why we feel so strongly about this issue. In essence, there has been research and reviews of Internet voting by independent computer security experts who believe that at this time there is no effective way to make Internet voting safe, reliable and transparent. When the Pentagon asked scientists in 2004 to review the SERVE program to allow military families and Americans overseas to use the Internet to vote, the case against Internet voting was so strong, the Pentagon dropped that program and has been trying to come up with another better approach. Those efforts have been unsuccessful thus far. Recent testimony before Congress has also confirmed Internet voting is not ready for prime time yet. It is all spelled out with citations and web links in our resolution thanks to Dr. Novitski.

Q5. What other actions has the ICDP taken since passing the resolution against Internet voting?

A5. The ICDP and its volunteers have been working feverishly on letters to both state and national party officials to convince them that, at the very least, we should conduct a review of our Internet voting procedures by an appointed panel of independent computer security experts, not just an internal review or questioning of vendors. We are also doing our best to inform other party activists around the state.

Q6. What's the hurry? Aren't we many months away from the primary caucus?

A6. A decision to select a vendor could be days away. The MDP has already gotten proposals from several vendors who want to conduct our Internet voting. They are confident they can conduct a safe and secure process even though independent experts say they can't do that and certainly can't make it transparent as required by the policy of our national party. We are convinced our state party is about to make a tragic mistake and we feel compelled to bring all this to their attention.

Q7. What could happen if Internet voting goes ahead?

A7. Hackers have been so successful at various kinds of attacks on the Internet that large organizations spend billions of dollars trying to keep a step ahead of them. Malicious and knowledgeable computer hackers could either prevent Michigan Democrats from voting or could change the results if they are very proficient. The 2008 Democratic Party's Internet voting could turn into a huge embarrassment for the party. We don't want our party or voters to be harmed by a big mistake that can be avoided.

Q8. What can I do to help?

A8. You can contact every serious Democrat you know and inform them about the issue. You can also contact national and state party officials and let them know of your concerns and ask them why they think Internet voting meets the criteria laid out by the national Democratic Party that voting on the Internet can only be done if it is secure, reliable and transparent.


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