ACLU Says Puerto Rico's Push For Internet Voting Raises Security Fears The civil liberties group is urging the U.S. territory's governor to veto a bill that could shift all voting to the Internet by 2028.
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Puerto Rico's Internet Voting Plan Threatens Election Security: ACLU

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Puerto Rico's Internet Voting Plan Threatens Election Security: ACLU

Puerto Rico's Internet Voting Plan Threatens Election Security: ACLU

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

In Puerto Rico, there is a push to shift voting entirely online in the next eight years. As early as this November, some voters will be casting ballots over the Internet. Proponents of online elections say technology can make it easier for more people to vote, while civil liberties advocates are warning that Puerto Rico's plan threatens election security and voting rights. NPR tech correspondent Shannon Bond has more.

SHANNON BOND, BYLINE: Puerto Rico is overhauling the way it holds elections, and one big item is modernizing the way people vote. A bill that's expected to pass this week is pushing Internet voting. That's got some people on the island worried.

MAYTE BAYOLO: Our main concern is that online voting is not secure.

BOND: Mayte Bayolo is legislative attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Puerto Rico.

BAYOLO: The right to vote isn't just the right to cast a ballot but also to have your vote count.

BOND: Her concern is that the plan raises too many risks.

BAYOLO: Online voting or even collecting electronic voting machines to a server or any sort of software online runs the risk of hacking and tampering of the vote.

BOND: The Puerto Rico and national ACLUs are urging the territory's governor, Wanda Vazquez, to veto the bill. The proposed plan starts with giving absentee and early voters the option to vote online this year. That would extend to all voters in 2024. Puerto Rico had more than 2.8 million registered voters in the last general election in 2016. In 2028, the electoral commission will decide whether the Internet will be the only way Puerto Ricans can vote. Cities, counties and states across the U.S. are experimenting with letting some people vote on smartphone apps, but none are as sweeping as Puerto Rico's proposal.

BAYOLO: If this bill is approved, it will make Puerto Rico a true outlier. No state or territory trusts an entire electoral infrastructure to vulnerable technology like this one.

BOND: It's unclear why Puerto Rico is ground zero for such a big change in voting. What we know is the bill is backed by the powerful president of Puerto Rico Senate, Thomas Rivera Schatz. He didn't respond to NPR's interview request. The text of the bill says the Internet would make voting easier and more accessible. Advocates of online voting say it means more people will vote because it's easier to cast a ballot on a smartphone or computer instead of going to the polls.

BRADLEY TUSK: It's all about turnout.

BOND: Bradley Tusk is founder of Tusk Philanthropies, which has funded a lot of the recent online voting pilot programs. He's not involved in Puerto Rico's plan. Tusk says that in the eight elections so far that have tested technology he's funded, turnout has doubled.

TUSK: It's just basic in the same way that every other technology that removes friction tends do pretty well.

BOND: On the other side of the debate, cybersecurity experts are largely skeptical of online voting, especially after the 2016 presidential election, when Russian hackers tried to get into state election systems.

ALEX HALDERMAN: It should be just common sense that we want to keep ballots as far away from the Internet as we can.

BOND: Alex Halderman is a computer science professor at the University of Michigan who studies election security. He says the technology just doesn't exist to make sure online votes won't be tampered with.

HALDERMAN: We'd have to figure out how to protect server systems from extremely powerful attackers like hostile nation-states. We'd have to protect voters' own devices, their smartphones or PCs.

BOND: The bill's critics also note that voter turnout is already high in Puerto Rico, where election day is a public holiday.

Shannon Bond, NPR News.

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