A coalition of over thirty citizen advocacy groups, led by Free Speech For People and organized by the LA County Voters’ Action Coalition, sent a letter to the California State Senate Committee strongly opposing SB 1480, a bill that would expand voting over the Internet in California. The letter was also signed by Public Citizen, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Dr. David Jefferson, a retired computer security research scientist at Lawrence Livermore Laboratories and Professor Philip Stark, Distinguished Professor of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of California at Berkeley, and member of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission’s Board of Advisors.

SB 1480 would allow voters with a qualifying disability to return ballots by facsimile, and would also roll back California law that explicitly prohibits the use of online voting systems by permitting the Secretary of State to certify a system by which voters could mark and return a ballot via the internet.

“SB 1480 would significantly expand the fax return of voted ballots, which is unacceptably insecure…Virtually all fax transmission today is done over the Internet. Fax voting is thus just another form of Internet voting, with all of the profound security weaknesses shared by all Internet voting systems…From a total security point of view fax ranks at the very bottom-of-the-barrel of communication systems, right along with email. Faxed ballots, like email ballots, are not – and cannot be – end-to-end encrypted,” the letter warns.

The letter goes on to state, “Among national security experts and computer scientists, there is no debate: online voting (any electronic transmission of a voted ballot) cannot be adequately secured for governmental elections.”  The groups cite a risk-assessment from federal agencies including the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which warns that online ballot return cannot be made safe with the security tools available today, and recommends using paper ballots over electronic ballot return.

“While we appreciate the objective of SB 1480 to provide options to voters with disabilities, fax and online voting are not the way to do it,” said Susan Greenhalgh, Senior Advisor on Election Security for Free Speech For People. “There’s a mistaken idea that there is a tension between ballot security and ballot accessibility, and that by relaxing one, you can increase the other. But that’s just incorrect. If a ballot is not secure and cannot be trusted to be counted correctly, it is not providing accessible voting. Without security underpinning the system, accessible voting isn’t possible.”

SB 1480 was passed out of the California Senate Committee on Elections and Constitutional Amendments on April 27th. It now moves to the Senate Appropriations Committee.