People voting in the recent elections may have found the actual process to be surprisingly old-school. In a world where transactions from checking a bank account to receiving medical advice takes place online and can occur 24/7, voting often requires a special trip to a specific location on a particular day. Ballots and voter IDs are still often paper, marked by pencil. The activity is concealed with cloth curtains.
Yes, there are mail-in ballots that eliminate the need for a specific polling place and day. But the real question is: Why hasn’t the digital world come to voting? Does technology news hold information about when voters will have the option of digitally casting their votes?
Well, the digital world has come to elections in some parts of the world. Estonia, India, and Italy all use e-voting, as do some members of the U.S. military.
However, despite the possible benefits, it doesn’t look like a move whose time has come.
Potential Benefits of Digital Voting…
The relative absence of digital voting seems odd considering the potential benefits when compared to the paper method. If banks can keep accounts accurate and secure, it seems as if analogous accuracy and security could improve the voting process.
Paper ballots, after all, can be lost or certain elements (such as chads) impede their accurate tabulation. In some locales, paper ballots are counted by hand. E-voting would be more accurate and quicker. It could reduce the potential of voter fraud or contested elections, as it has in India.
The ability to vote online also has the possibility of improving participation and access. People have to track down their polling place; a computer or smartphone is far more accessible to most people. In places where e-voting occurs, people can vote within a time frame window, rather than one day. Online voting may be far more accessible to older people, those without cars, or the disabled. It may be far more popular with younger voters, who are accustomed to online provision of everything from college course materials to shopping.
Finally, in a world where many governments have had budgets slashed, online voting has the potential to be less expensive, by reducing overhead and the amount of personnel needed.
… Are Countered by Drawbacks
All those potential advantages exist, but so do major drawbacks.
As an article in Scientific American observes, the analogy with online bank (or retail) security and convenience only goes so far. Hacks into privacy or security, including identify theft, do occur. To some degree, businesses expect a certain degree of it simply because they currently don’t have the means to utterly rule it out. It’s therefore considered a cost of doing business and written off financially.
Countries are much less disposed to write off potential online voter fraud. It could throw the legitimacy of elections — and thus of governments — into question.
Observers believe that e-voting in countries where it exists could be hacked; they just haven’t been yet.
The privacy of the ballot box is another major reason that governments are reluctant to enter the digital world. Here, too, the analogy with commercial online systems is instructive. The Scientific American article notes that, if a bank suspects unauthorized activity on an account, they counter it by getting in touch with the account holder. That’s the method of tracking down fraud.
Voting, however, is supposed to be anonymous. The analogy with tracking down voters and asking how they voted is not something governments would undertake, because it breaks the seal of anonymity guaranteed to voters.
So will digital voting come in the next election? Unless you live in one of the countries that e-votes now, it’s not likely to be in your future.