Computer Systems Laboratory Colloquium

4:15PM, Wednesday, January 5, 2000
NEC Auditorium, Gates Computer Science Building B03

Internet Voting in Public Elections

David Jefferson
Compaq Systems Research Center
About the talk:
In recent months public interest has been growing in systems for online voting, online voter registration, and online petition signing. The Secretary of State of California recently appointed a task force to study the issues, and a report will be published in the second week in January, 2000, available via the Secretary of State's page. This talk will summarize the technical issues addressed in that report.

Security, privacy, failure tolerance, and availability are the primary technical issues that must be addressed in any Internet voting system, and this talk will touch upon them all.

One major conclusion is that remote Internet voter registration systems are not recommended. Until such time as there are strong online human identification mechanisms widely available, along with ways to verify citizenship, age, and residency, any system for online voter registration is vulnerable to malicious, automated creation of an arbitrary number of phony voters.

Another conclusion is that Internet voting systems (as opposed to voter registration) must be divided into two fundamental classes:

Systems of type (a) are technically managable today, and may appear in California as soon as November, 2000, at least on a trial basis. On the other hand, systems of type (b) are vulnerable to Trojan horse attacks for which there are today no good technical solutions that are both effective and convenient enough for voters. Such systems should not be fielded until there is progress on the fundamental problem of managing malicious code.

About the speaker:

David Jefferson is a Senior Member of the Research Staff at Compaq's Systems Research Center in Palo Alto. He is also the chair of the Technical Committee of the California Secretary of State's Task Force on Internet Voting, and a member of the Board of Directors of the California Voter Foundation ( He has been very active in issues at the intersection of elections and the Internet for over five years with DEC and Compaq. Before that he worked in the fields of parallel discrete event simulation, parallel operating systems, synchronization, artificial life, and robotics on the faculties of computer science at USC and UCLA. He holds a B.S. in mathematics from Yale University and a Ph.D. in computer science from Carnegie-Mellon University.

Contact information:

David Jefferson
Compaq Systems Research Center (SRC)
130 Lytton Ave.
Palo Alto, CA 94301
(650) 853-2140