Barbara Simons has been fighting for secure elections for two decades. But the award-winning computer scientist, who’s also well-versed in voting technology and its security vulnerabilities, doesn’t consider herself a security expert. Everything she’s learned about election security, she says, came from hanging out with security experts.
“My job had nothing to do with security. My training is in computer science,” she says. “I’ve never hacked [a] machine … [but] I think I could learn [how to],” she says.
Simons, 79, has been a major and influential player in the movement to institute paper-ballot backups for electronic voting systems and in warning about the security risks of Internet voting. She and many other computer scientists argue that computers and software alone can’t properly handle the task of tallying votes.
“You can’t trust computers to work properly [with voting systems],” says Simons, who has served on multiple projects and task forces on election security. “You need paper as a check on the computers.”
In 2000, online voting in US elections had sounded like an exciting and promising prospect to Simons when she joined the Internet voting study task force convened by then-President Bill Clinton.
“In those early days looking at Internet voting, it was, of course, why not? I thought it was a good idea,” recalls Simons.
But her enthusiasm quickly waned. Security experts from academia and government labs shared grim assessments of the major security risks in online voting, so the final report published by Simons and other members of the National Workshop on Internet Voting flatly rejected the notion of shifting to online voting in the new millennium.
“It basically said, ‘No,