We’ve just finished the 2018 voting season in the U.S.; and although it wasn’t implicitly stated, one of the things at stake in this voting season was… voting itself. A great deal of the strategies of the current conservative administration has been about disenfranchising a significant amount of (surprisingly non-conservative) American citizens, and making it harder for blue- and no-collar Americans to actually vote, and making it easier for conservatives to maintain power.
One of the reasons these strategies are so threatening to the American voting system is that our system is, in many cases, archaic. As an example, when I voted, I traveled to a central location on a specific day, gave my name, birthdate and address to a stranger, signed a slip of paper to verify my identity, was handed a folder of paper ballots, which I filled out by coloring ovals on the paper with a pen. How turn of the century. (The eighteenth century, that is.)
In fact, our local voting system used to be more sophisticated, with punchcard ballots… and before that, I’ve voted on a fully-electronic system. But over time, doubt and distrust has been applied to modern systems and electronics (despite few, if any, examples of anyone taking advantage of those systems), pushing our voting tech literally back into the last century, and coincidentally, making it as easy to sabotage and corrupt as any hackable electronic system. Maybe easier… after all, you can ruin paper ballots with the judicious application of a match.
No major changes are going to be made to our voting system as long as a conservative-based government is in place. But if we ever see a really progressive government again, one of the things we really need is a voting system that reflects the 21st century and looks beyond.
The first thing we need is to take advantage of the modern telecommunications system in the world, enabling us to connect and communicate wherever we are. The fact is that there is no longer a need to go to a central location to vote: Votes can be recorded anywhere in the world, including on a cellphone, and transmitted anywhere nigh-instantaneously.
The next thing we need is a more robust identification system… something that we’ve needed for general online buying and communication for decades anyway. The existing typed-password system isn’t secure or robust or foolproof, as IT experts have tried to emphasize for years; but the public has also been averse to more sophisticated systems, showing resistance even to 2-factor identification. And biometrics is still a long way from being applied to daily use. Fortunately, biometrics are being added to cellphones now, and people are slowly getting used to the idea of securing their phones with fingerprints, facial recognition and other systems. The systems still need improvement, but they’re on the way to public use and confidence.
Finally, the voting system needs to be designed around a functional, easily-used website and a secure database system. A user on a computer, cellphone or smart TV should feel confident that the system identifies them accurately and can’t be fooled into thinking someone else can spoof them. Then the voting itself should be easy, tailored to the voter with enough opportunities to verify and change votes if desired before finalizing them. Perhaps an after-the-fact verification system is needed, to allay the concerns of those who fear their connection could be immediately hijacked by others and mis-voted; if such votes were held until verified, perhaps 24 hours later, through a secondary contact and verification channel, hijacked votes would be difficult-to-impossible to pull off.
Those votes should be simultaneously sent to and stored in multiple databases in multiple locations (three or more, minimum… five would be best) that encrypt, synchronize and compare their contents to each other, and have monitored access points and backed-up power systems. Errors due to corruption or hacking would be highly improbable, since identical intrusions or corruptions would have to happen to all databases at once.
These are not elements of science fiction we’re talking about; all of these elements are capable of being built today with existing technology. It’s just a matter of wanting to and applying the effort to properly put the elements together. Once that is accomplished, the U.S. will truly be the democracy it is intended to be, making it so easy that a greater proportion of our fellow citizens will vote, hopefully more effectively and more often.
In 2018, approximately 49% of the eligible American voters actually voted, and for America, that’s considered a record turnout. A great deal of eligible voters choose not to vote, either because they don’t feel the desire or they don’t feel strong enough about any candidate to take the time to go to polls, stand in line and go through that voting process… and you get a disenfranchised voter. Apathy is always a challenge in voting; but if you can access a website on your home computer or cellphone and vote confidently, we should expect to convert more than half of apathetic and disenfranchised voters, significantly raising voting ranks and making this a more transparent and all-inclusive democracy.