January 28, 2010. This New York Times editorial argues that men and women in US uniform must have a fair opportunity to vote in elections, and that the internet already has a part to play in assisting them to vote, but that the internet is not yet ready for the return of their completed ballot forms. The case for military electronic voting is arguably stronger for UK elections than for US presidential elections, because of our much shorter electoral timetable.

Internet voting is in its infancy, and still far too unreliable, but states are starting to allow it and the trend is accelerating because of a new federal law that requires greater efforts to help military and other overseas voters cast ballots. Men and women in uniform must have a fair opportunity to vote, but allowing online voting in its current state could open elections up to vote theft and other mischief.

It is often hard for military voters to get ballots, and because of distance and unreliable mail service, it can be difficult or impossible for them to meet election deadlines. A year ago, the Pew Center on the States found that more than one-third of states do not provide military voters stationed abroad with enough time to vote, or are at high risk of not providing enough time. To address this problem, the new Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act requires states in most cases to get ballots to military and overseas voters well in advance of regularly scheduled federal elections.

But the value of removing roadblocks is undermined when votes are put at risk, which can happen when ballots are returned by e-mail or are actually cast on a Web site. Massachusetts recently enacted a law allowing service members to vote by e-mail overseas. According to Verified Voting, a group that works to ensure reliable elections, 16 states allow some form of Internet voting, and more than a dozen — including Alabama, Hawaii, Illinois and Washington — are considering it.

E-mail can be intercepted, and voting Web sites can be hacked or taken down by malicious attacks. There are not even agreed-upon standards for what safety measures are necessary.

In many cases, it is not possible to ensure a secret ballot when votes are cast online or by e-mail. That is a particular concern for military voting, where soldiers could come under pressure from commanding officers about their choice of a candidate.

The Internet can help improve overseas voting if it is used wisely. It can be a good way to get information about elections and candidates out to faraway voters, and to deliver blank ballots. Right now, those ballots should not be returned online.