I became a U.S. citizen in 2000, just in time to vote in that year’s Presidential Election. I have voted at every opportunity since, in elections big and small. But, to date, I have voted in person on Election Day just once (and that was for a local citywide ordinance vote). Inevitably, I am on the road on Election Day, and so I have to vote using an Absentee Ballot. I did this for the Presidential Elections in 2000 and 2004 (both of which were during MAX), for mid-term elections … and I just went to pick up my Absentee Ballot for the upcoming Michigan Primary (as I’ll be on the West Coast next week).
But every time I go through this I can’t help wondering “why?”
I can renew my license plate online (by using a use-once PIN that is sent to me ahead of time). I can pay my bills online. I can file and pay my taxes online. I can trade stocks and funds online. I can buy and sell securely online. I can obtain credit reports online (having to answer all sorts of questions to prove I am who I say I am). I can vote online in shareholder votes. I can obtain birth certificates online. I an apply for some travel visas online (electronic visas, for which there is no paper record or stamp). I can open bank accounts online. …
So, why can’t I vote online?
Sure, the big issue is voter fraud. But that is already an issue. Even with paper ballots there is a percentage of fraud – individuals voting who are not eligible to do so, voting more than once, coercion, vote suppression, and more. Ballots have been issued for dead people as well as pets. Full ballot boxes have gotten lost and then turned up after counting has completed. Recounts (of the exact same stack of ballots) result in different totals. People make incorrect selections (remember Florida 2000?). Lots of things can, and do, go wrong. Paper ballots rely on people, and people mess up (maliciously or inadvertently). If anyone thinks that relying on paper and people is somehow safe and fraud-proof, well, as Dana Carvey would say, “denial is not just a river in Egypt”.
I want to be able to vote electronically. I want to be able to register to do so ahead of time (so that I’d not be allowed to vote in person at a polling station) and be given a use-once PIN or some identifier for use on Election Day. I want to be able to log in (on the day, or even ahead of time as I can with an Absentee Ballot) and vote. I want to be able to do this on my computer, on my PDA, and even on my cell-phone (get a text message that challenges me for my identifier, and then receive messages one by one that prompt for my vote). Recount? No problem – hit Enter, and you have a new count.
Will there be fraud? Undoubtedly. Mistakes? Yep, those, too. Will it be worse than relying on paper and people? Maybe, maybe not – I don’t think that can be answered unequivocally as no one really knows just how much goes wrong right now. Will electronic voting encourage more people to vote (especially younger voters)? Absolutely.
In the 2008 Presidential Elections I’ll vote using a paper ballot, likely an Absentee Ballot. But what about 2012? Will I be able to vote electronically? I’m not optimistic. But, here’s hoping!