The Arizona Libertarian 2008 Primary

The Arizona Libertarian Party (AZLP) conducted its entire primary online between January 30 and February 5, 2008 using ranked choice voting, a system that allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference.[1] The software was written by Aleks Totic for FairVote, and provided by FairVote, a not-for-profit that supports Ranked Choice Voting.[2] There does not seem to have been any independent outside review of the software. The final tally, but not individual votes, was posted on the internet.

While the state said that the results would be binding, the AZLP learned that there would be no legal repercussions if a delegate did not vote for the candidate to whom he or she was pledged. According to AZLP Chair Michael Kielsky, when the AZLP discovered they would save the county a million dollars by not participating in the county-sponsored primary, they decided to hold their own internet-based primary. Kielsky stated, “We were more interested in the publicity than anything else; the primary had no binding effect whatsoever. The primary was a joke, and we saved the taxpayers over a million dollars by taking ourselves out of the process. Libertarians have long claimed that taxpayers should not have to pay the cost of primary contest, so this decision was consistent with our beliefs.”[3] The primary cost about a thousand dollars.[4]

Voters “self credentialed” by providing first name, last name, year of birth, residence house number, and residence zip code, all information available from the voter registration list. All voters for whom at least four of the items were correct were allowed to vote in the primary, though four-match ballots were deemed provisional and flagged for later verification. If fewer than four were correct, the ballot was flagged and recorded, but not counted. Kielsky's recollection is that all provisional ballots were counted.

In order to protect the voter's privacy, the validation process used encryption. First, each of the five self-credential items obtained from the voter registration list was separately encrypted (hashed). When someone wanted to vote, the information provided by the voter was similarly encrypted. The encrypted version obtained from the voter registration list was then compared to the encrypted version obtained from information provided by the voter. Since the vote was associated with the encrypted information, as opposed to the voter's unencrypted name, voter privacy was protected. Kielsky acknowledged that it would have been possible for an insider who knew the encryption algorithm and had access to the voter list to determine how someone voted, though he didn't think that was a major concern, given the “beauty contest” nature of the primary.

Kielsky, who is aware of security risks of internet voting, said that he would have been far more concerned about security had the election been one in which an actual candidate was being selected.

[1] The Arizona Libertarian Party. Arizona Libertarians Conduct Primary Online. .

[2] Amy Ngai. Private email to Barbara Simons, July 2009.

[3] Michael Kielsky. Private communication with Barbara Simons, July 2009.

[4] Third Party Watch. Historic Primary Election in Arizona, February 2008.