Insights & Analyses

Online voting on the rise in America, but comes at a cost to privacy

November 7, 2016

With election day upon us in the U.S., an increasing number of states offered some voters the option to return absentee ballots electronically, either as a fax, email attachment or upload through an online portal. However, the electronic ballot submissions do come with a tradeoff — waiving the right to a secret ballot.

In many states. only voters falling under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act can take advantage of electronic submission. Alaska, a notable exception, allows any registered voter to submit electronically.

Electronic voting introduces a convenient option for voters for whom the mail system may not be a practical option to receive and return ballots.

The District of Columbia requires voters submitting their ballots via e-mail to acknowledge this in writing by attaching a waiver including a name, address, signature, date.

It also includes the statement: “Pursuant to Title 3 DCMR Section 718.10, I understand that by electronically submitting my voted ballot I am voluntarily waiving my right to a secret ballot.”

Meanwhile, the State of Alaska Division of Elections, which provides an online portal to submit ballots, warns voters that “returning the ballot through the secure online delivery system, your are voluntarily waving your right to a secret ballot and are assuming the risk that a faulty transmission may occur.”

There are no federal provisions requiring the use of secret ballots. Most states adopted secret ballots, then known as “Australian ballots,” in the late nineteenth century.