Call me too ignorant, too cynical or too old, but online voter registration, which went into effect in Florida Oct. 1, feels like Big Trouble.
Sure as Monday turned to Tuesday, it won't be long before a few or even several supervisors of election cry foul when some shadowy cyber mischiefmaker with enough personal data impersonates voters and changes registration records.
I'm not comforted that 35 states and the District of Columbia made Florida look late to the online voter registration party.
Nor am I comforted by the secretary of state. Ken Detzner's good-news press release is full of assurances. RegisterToVoteFlorida.gov, the website to sign up, "has multiple safeguards in place to verify and protect a person's identity and personal information," he says, "including a state-of-the-art firewall, data encryption, captcha boxes, session time-out after inactivity and the use of multi-screens. ..."
I'm sorry, Mr. Secretary, but don't you think it's a little arrogant to boast Florida has established foolproof online voter registration -- that hackers couldn't disenfranchise Floridians by exploiting vulnerabilities in our system? How soon we forget Russia.
Isn't the voter-registration war between political parties explosive enough without putting voter rolls in the hands of faceless IT homeboys with more tech savvy than our supervisors of election?
Ask yourself why the identity theft industry makes billions of dollars annually to protect us from clever sods who can disenfranchise us -- steal our lives in half a dozen keystrokes -- yet the people at the Division of Elections thought of everything to keep the voter rolls safe from cyber fraud.
And, by the way, I know kids in the fourth grade who can foil captcha boxes. (Doesn't everybody?)
I even know a nerdy high school kid from Connecticut who told me he might "try to get into" Connecticut's elections site just to show he could.
Have a look at the study published last month in the journal Technology Science. It says hackers could buy -- either from commercial data brokers or more cheaply from cybercriminals -- all the personal data they need about millions of Americans to fraudulently alter voter registration records online. Calling it “voter identity theft,” journal Editor-in-Chief Latanya Sweeney, who is also a Harvard professor, and co-authors Ji Su Yoo and Jinyan Zang say a broad scale attack on several states could be carried out with data costing just a few thousand dollars.
“A few lines of Python code are able to input and harvest information online,” said Yoo. “Even if there are captchas on the website that are meant to prevent automation, we describe how an attacker could bypass certain types.”
Officials have said supervisors of elections, including Florida's, have safeguards in place to prevent that -- in fact, to prevent everything this study asserts. They claim they all have back office processes and election practices that could detect or limit a cyber attack.
Judd Choate, president of the National Association of State Elections Directors, said “(Yoo) doesn’t understand the amount of work we do to keep these systems secure.”
And Detzner's press release tells Floridians not to worry, because "the website requires information that only the person seeking to register or change an existing registration should know, such as the issued date of their Florida driver license or state ID card, their Florida driver license or state ID card number and the last four digits of their Social Security Number. ..."
Why don't I feel better? I think about the we've-got-you-covered assurances I keep reading, then I remember some of South Florida's more accident-prone supervisors of election and ... I know exactly why I don't feel better.
I know I'm in the minority on this one, same as I am when I express my abhorrence for early voting. Online voter registration will be wildly popular -- after all, it's easy. Heaven forbid citizenship should inconvenience any American.
"We're really excited for online voter registration," a spokesperson for Hillsborough's Supervisor of Elections Office told WFTS-TV in Tampa. "We think it's going to be really convenient for voters. We have a lot of young people who don't know what a printer is much less where to find one, much less find a stamp if they have to put it in an envelope and mail it to us."