The Future of American Elections: Online Voting?

It seems that technological development has made its mark on all sectors of daily life. Why not the democratic process?

The arguments seem reasonable.

The city of Honolulu, Hawaii implemented an “all digital” election in recent local elections, i.e. the ballots were cast either on the Internet, or by phone. This experiment hasn’t made a statement either way for other levels of government. But what would it mean, if millions of people voted from the comfort of their own home — how much hassle and money, in terms of state and federal spending, could be saved if we employed a “digital democracy?”

There are more than 500 million units of fixed-line and mobile telephones in a country of about 305 million. And some 223 million Americans enjoy internet access, the majority of which is broadband.

Not so fast…

Who is at the other end of the machine? Who verifies the voters? The Republican and Democratic parties already routinely accuse each other of voter fraud. Democrats throw around the phrase “voter suppression” and Republicans point their fingers at liberal groups like ACORN.

Voter fraud (allegations) is already a problem. So, what would happen when the “vote” is a mere electronic pulse, that could come, potentially, from anywhere in the U.S., or around the world? Who will oversee an e-voting process? And who will oversee them, if necessary?

This new way of voting could add new layers of complexity to the voting process. In theory, the technology is completely neutral. Practically, the matter is up for debate.

It seems noteworthy that the font of net-based computer technology is in Silicon Valley, California. Should they be trusted with the charge to create a neutral system? Perhaps. One might have hesitation, but there is no real evidence to make a judgment either way. President Obama out-fundraised Senator McCain 5:1 among computer executives and won Santa Clara County (the heart of the Silicon Valley) with 69 percent of the vote; other high-tech enclaves, including San Francisco, Manhattan, and Boston were even greater in Obama’s favor.

It might seem that Internet voting is not just a possibility; it is, in fact, coming. If Democratic-leaning computer-techies dominate the research and development of a system for voting, the Democratic Party will not have a problem. If Democratic Secretaries of State adjudicate the implementation process and the vote-counting, that will as well be fine with the Democratic Party. If e-voting comes quicker to Democratic-leaning places than Republican-leaning places, the Democratic Party will be more than fine with this. For the GOP, this could spell political extinction considering the numbers Democrats could get via this new method, particularly in urban areas.

I personally have a lot of reservations and even more criticisms of the “modernist complex” behind digital voting — from laziness, to reaffirming our “insta-gratification” must-be-convenient culture, and the list goes on. However, I don’t think the American sentiment will be much the same. I think many, if not most, Americans will back this move. I would be surprised to see otherwise.

So what is needed, in the short-term, would be a completely fair and transparent process to examine the transition to Internet voting–if this route is inevitable, that is. I pray not. But if so, hopefully it can be done in a bipartisan effort to oversee the implementation of such technology modeled after the Federal Election Commission, or the private Commission on Presidential Debates.

How this system is set up and how voter-identity is verified is another matter.

If anything, the GOP might turn the Democrats’ argument against them: Internet voting disenfranchises older generations of Americans just as much as the National I.D. cards, or other forms of identification beyond current requirements, disenfranchise older, poor, and lower-income groups.

This is something that will be interesting to watch evolve.

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