The 2020 election is rapidly approaching, and the coronavirus pandemic is still surging in states throughout the U.S. This combination has many people concerns about how voting will look in November. Although mobile voting has the makings of a great solution — especially amid a pandemic — it’s held back by an overall lack of security standards.

In its current state, mobile voting poses so many election cybersecurity issues that it falls short of its potential. Organizations like the National Cybersecurity Center, or NCC, are working to establish standards for and a narrative around mobile voting, but the gap in federal guidelines for return absentee ballots and their electronic delivery remains a bigger issue.

The Danger of Different Standards and Narratives

When standards vary by state and jurisdiction, it’s difficult to guarantee election integrity. A whole host of issues can make mobile voting difficult, risky, or inaccurate.

For instance, 19 states require return absentee ballots to be sent by mail; the remaining 31 states allow varying degrees of electronic submission. The majority of states allow return ballots to be sent by fax or email, but the lack of universal security standards poses serious threats. With no encryption standards for fax and inconsistent standards for email, it would be relatively easy for hackers to manipulate voters’ ballots and threaten the integrity of the election.

Beyond that, the broader narrative remains disjointed. Some look at the failed attempt to use mobile voting applications in the Iowa caucuses early this year and assume it illustrates the overall risk of electronic voting. This obscures the path forward for the growing group of partners — ranging from those in industry, philanthropy, and security — that are spending significant time and collective resources creating strong security standards.

Mobile Voting’s Role in Shoring Up Election Cybersecurity

As more unified standards are put in place, the narrative surrounding mobile voting becomes more accurate — and this technology is more likely to play a crucial role in strengthening election cybersecurity and expanding election access.

One of the most important feats mobile voting can achieve is increasing voter participation. Mobile voting makes it possible for more people to vote — and to do it securely. The more people vote, the stronger the aggregate security becomes. And as voter participation increases, we inevitably see a bell curve of political moderation; when more people can vote, the result is a more moderate and moderated election.

What’s Holding Mobile Voting Back

Considering the benefits mobile voting offers, it’s natural to wonder why it hasn’t played a more prominent role in our elections. A voting method that increases participation, results in a more moderate curve of voters, and strengthens overall election integrity should seemingly play a much bigger role than it does.

But certain concerns keep mobile voting from mainstream acceptance. There are, of course, risks associated with this approach — as with any voting method. But some people remain seriously concerned that mobile voting could make it “too easy” to vote. There are myriad reasons people hold this concern, but one of the most common is a firmly rooted belief that the right to vote is a privilege and should be treated as such; for many, the only way to exercise this privilege is by taking the time to go to the polls and cast your vote in person.

A Greater Role

For mobile voting to become a more viable option, certain security features must first become standard:

  • Verified voter identity.
  • Protection of personally identifiable information.
  • End-to-end vote verification systems.
  • Protection against infected personal devices.

Beyond these key features, the acceptance and implementation of mobile voting will depend on industry partners and election officials working together to identify and implement suitable security practices. Part of this must also involve outlining an acceptable standard process for protecting personally identifiable information — and ensuring this process works regardless of the device.

It’ll be crucial for election officials and industry partners to collaborate to detect potential malware on the devices being used to vote and to mitigate any threats. All mobile voting applications must also have independently verifiable systems to prevent any interference.

At the NCC, we believe that addressing these core issues within a federally led group — influenced and informed by local and state election officials — will empower federal security agencies and industry partners to create a standardized system and foster belief in the power of mobile voting in our elections. To learn more about what we’re doing to make this happen, click here.

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