The presidential election may be months away, but the primary elections are already underway, and Spectrum is here to remind you to register to vote!
Updated November 25th at 1:28pm.
Columbia College Student Council will vote on whether to allow Columbia University Apartheid Divest’s referendum on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement in the upcoming election cycle next Sunday....
This weekend, I cast my first ballot in a general election. I, like many Columbia undergraduates, registered to vote at my family’s home address—all the way in Los Angeles. And so, with that first vote comes a certain removal, a political homesickness. My first step into political adulthood is to mail in a ballot to a state I’m no longer sure I can call home....
The sandwich ambassador ballot initiative has never been a joke. I would know—I co-wrote it....
Updated, Sept. 22, 12:11 p.m.
If 10 percent of Columbia College students sign a petition for Columbia to divest from the fossil fuel industry, Columbia's very first ballot initiative may take place this semester....
Like many Columbia students this spring, it will soon be my unenviable task to prepare, receive, and return an absentee ballot for the presidential primary. I have been voting absentee in my home state of California for two and a half years now, and though I will probably be near my polling place in June, I will still need to vote absentee if I hope to maintain my automatic-absentee-voter status for the general election in November. The registration/absentee voter system is complex and burdensome, requiring lots of interaction with a confusingly slow snail mail system I am happily unfamiliar with. Columbia voters registered outside the tri-state area know of what I speak. Registration forms must be printed and mailed across the country. School mailboxes must be checked for sample ballots, then absentee ballots. Finally, a completed ballot has to be mailed back, never to be heard of again. Why can't this all be done over the Internet? We have enough trust in modern encryption to move billions of dollars over the Internet—why not votes? It turns out that, hidden amid a raft of thinly veiled political arguments for youth disenfranchisement, there are actually quite a few good reasons the absentee voting process is still painfully analog. The metaphor to banking is often made in discussions of Internet voting. Proponents argue that, if we can securely execute financial transactions on the public Internet, we can surely vote through similar channels. This notion is superficially very appealing, but overlooks a few striking differences between moving money and voting. Foremost among these is secrecy, which is not a concern in online banking. A monetary transfer between two accounts is almost always open to the two accounts or banks involved—the receiving party knows the identity of the sender. The transaction can thus be logged, confirmed, and recorded by both sides, and discrepancies detected. An Internet voting system, however, must simultaneously ensure both the privacy and integrity of a ballot. A registrar managing the vote-counting servers must not be able to discover the identity of the voter but is also charged with ensuring that voter's intended ballot is accurately recorded. These two missions are fundamentally at odds and cannot be easily reconciled by present-day commercial cryptography. Another problem is how voting software is developed and managed. While paper ballots can be counted under the watchful eyes of observers and public webcams, Internet ballots are counted inside, or at least delivered through, the opaque mechanisms of a computer. The passing votes through software has a myriad problems. The first is the inherent weakness of commercial software itself. Almost all commercial applications are released without the pretension of perfect security—developers expect that insecurities will be found, exploited, and patched. In a secret-ballot election, however, a single breach is game-ending. An election lacks the simple reversibly and repeatability of almost all other digital transactions. While a monetary transfer can appeal to logs and backups if breached, the existence of these in an election would suggest a dangerous lack of ballot secrecy. The second major problem with mixing software and votes is the ease with which an insider could tamper with results. While the public can watch paper counting without interfering with the process, making the source code of a voting application open to the public would greatly increase security risks. Internet ballot counting puts transparency and security into tension to a degree that paper ballots do not. There are, of course, Internet voting systems in use today. Estonia is a leader in the field, first offering nationwide Internet voting in local elections in 2005. But this system has been criticized by some Western election observers, mainly on privacy and transparency grounds, and relies on a national smart ID system of a type unlikely to be implemented in the United States. American experiments with Internet voting began in 2000 and continue to this day, though the insecurities discovered in the federal government's 2004 SERVE system, California's 2007 top-to-bottom review of e-voting, and the Washington D.C. Internet voting trial in 2010 have slowed what was once a headlong rush. All this is not to say that Columbia students should not support Internet voting. As a geographically diverse campus, Columbia has a particularly pressing interest in making absentee voting simpler and more accessible. Students should encourage the development and testing of new online voting systems and prompt deployment the minute a sufficiently secure architecture is created. But that day is probably still a few years away, and a rush to Internet voting, though attractive, imperils the very democratic principles it hopes to defend. Alex Collazo is a Columbia College junior majoring in creative writing and economics-philosophy. He is the treasurer of CIRCA and a former Spectator head copy editor. I'm Just Saying runs alternate Tuesdays....