Electronic Voting for the USENIX Board of Directors

The USENIX Board of Directors serves as the strategic arm of the organization, collaborating with the Executive Director and USENIX staff to deliver excellent technical programming and support a wide variety of communities. Every two years, the USENIX Association holds an election for the Board of Directors. All previous elections have been conducted via mail-in paper ballots.


The 2022 election for the USENIX Board of Directors will be a major change from this history: the election will be entirely electronic. This change is a significant move for an organization that is founded in technology and science. The USENIX community is no stranger to the risks of online voting. In fact, USENIX organizes the USENIX Security symposium (one of the top security conferences), and organized the Electronic Voting Technology (EVT) workshop from 2006 to 2014.


So why this change? There are a number of reasons that this is the right time to make this switch. The COVID-19 pandemic has been an extraordinary forcing function to move all things digital. Many members receive their physical USENIX mailings at their places of work, and with more individuals working from home, they may not receive ballots on time. In addition, paper ballots need to be returned by mail. COVID-19 has sped up USENIX’s time table for its staff to permanently work from home, and there is no longer a dedicated office to receive the ballots. Finally, the paper and the mailings have an impact on climate change, which is a large concern for many USENIX members.


As we make this transition, security has been top of mind. Ultimately, all security decisions come down to a threat model. Given the risks for this election, combined with security of available technology, the USENIX Board has determined that electronic voting is appropriate. To be clear, USENIX does not advocate electronic voting for high-stakes elections such as those conducted to elect local and nation-state government officials. As we send electronic ballots to our members, we will reiterate this stance.

To conduct the electronic voting, USENIX is partnering with Helios. Originally proposed in a USENIX Security ’08 paper, Helios was first used for an election in 2009 by the Université catholique de Louvain to elect their University President with 70,000 voters. Since then, it has been adopted by a number of universities for student elections and faculty hiring/tenure decisions. It has also been used by a number of nonprofits and open-source communities for their board elections, most recently for the open telemetry governance committee. To date, more than 2,000,000 votes have been cast on it, including those of International Association for Cryptologic Research (IACR) members who have used the system for their elections for more than 10 years. Given this reputation and feedback we solicited from domain experts in the USENIX community, we feel confident that it will provide sufficient security for our elections.


If you have any questions or concerns, we encourage you to email elections@usenix.org.