Can You Vote Online in the Presidential Election?

As the coronavirus pandemic rolls on, and controversies surrounding mail-in voting flare, there has been increasing interest in whether online voting should be allowed in the U.S. elections.

Generally, U.S. elections do not allow you to vote online, apart from in very specific scenarios. In most elections in the U.S., you either need to vote in person at an official polling place or by casting an absentee ballot.

In 2020, 32 states and the District of Columbia will accept ballots submitted via a mobile app, fax, email, or an online portal, but this method is mostly reserved for military personnel serving overseas or civilians living abroad.

Every state's absentee voting rules are different, so before you set out to cast your ballot you should check those which apply in your area. You should also check whether I.D. is required to vote in your state, as rules vary in different areas on that too.

The numbers of mail-in votes for the 2020 election is breaking records across the nation in light of the pandemic, as many states have expanded their absentee-voting rules and laws.

According to The New York Times, more than 72 million absentee ballots have been requested or sent to registered voters in 39 states and the District of Columbia for the general election, and have surpassed the requests for absentee ballots during the 2016 election in at least 15 states. Polling data suggests that Democrats are more likely to vote by mail than Republicans in 2020.

American states have dabbled in online voting in the past, but only for state or local elections thus far.

Among the arguments for allowing online voting, including the prospect of digital ballots increasing voter turnout. In 2016, more than 40 percent of U.S. citizens did not vote. President Donald Trump won the election with a 46.1 percent share of the overall vote. That equates to just 27 percent of the population that were eligible to vote.

There are also fears that the Covid-19 pandemic could exacerbate the issue this year.

However, security remains a major issue, with fears that foreign hackers from countries such as Russia or China could intervene in elections which allow mass digital voting.

Security flaws

Online voting in national elections is nothing new for some. Voters in Estonia have been casting their ballots online since 2005.

The U.S., however, appears to still be far from having a system in which online voting will become the norm. In 2018, Alaskan officials shut down a Web portal it had been using to accept absentee ballots from overseas voters.

"There was concern in regards to security of the system," said Carol Thompson, an elections official with the Alaska Division of Elections. "People getting in there or hacking the system."

Other existing online voting systems have also revealed security flaws. Earlier this year, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found issues with the online election system from Voatz which was used to run West Virginia's first mobile election, a trial that was run in 2018. It allowed hackers to alter, stop or expose users' votes.

Mail-in voting
A woman wearing protective gloves posts her election ballot in an official ballot drop box in Marina del Rey, California, on October 20, 2020. In an effort to make voting safe and accessible for everyone during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, dozens of official ballot drop boxes are readily available for use throughout Los Angeles County. Amanda Edwards/Getty Images