The quantum encryption work being done in Switzerland will be an important learning experience, particularly because the technology is still in its early stages of development, Habif says. Quantum key distribution systems available today work only over short distances and require an exponential amount of computing and network resources as that distance grows. "If you give the field five to 10 years, you will see the beginnings of a scalable quantum key distribution system," he says, adding that a quantum signal cannot be amplified today because a repeater would destroy the photons and the data they carry as it inspects the photons. "You need a quantum repeater that will preserve the fidelity of the quantum information as it moves through the network." Of course, the presence of such a repeater could also weaken the sanctity of the encrypted transmission if the fiber-optic network is not properly secured.
Skeptics say that although the Swiss government's plan to demonstrate quantum cryptography is interesting, it is not likely to vastly improve the integrity of elections. "This makes no positive contribution to voting security or trustworthiness," says David Dill, a Stanford University professor of computer science and founder of the Verified Voting Foundation, a nonprofit organization pushing for the implementation of voting processes that can more easily be verified and audited. "The transmission of vote data to the central server is really one of the lesser issues. To the extent that that's a problem, it can be adequately solved at less cost and risk using conventional cryptography."
In order to have a voting system that allows for truly verifiable election results, information has to be protected from the time the vote is cast to the time it is counted and the election is certified, Dill says. So could the Swiss experience help iron out problems brought to light during the 2000 U.S. presidential election fiasco, which ended in a Supreme Court decision that ushered George W. Bush into the White House? Extremely unlikely, Dill says, noting that the U.S. still has no minimum standards for conducting federal elections that would create consistency across the country.