Should voting be done electronically?
- Article 1 of the US Constitution outlines election laws, giving the states the “responsibility of overseeing federal elections. Many Constitutional amendments and federal laws to protect voting rights have been passed since then.”
- Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) allows a voter to tap a touchscreen to cast their vote electronically. Electronic voting can be in reference to casting or tallying a vote with “many polling locations in the United States have already made the switch by using scanner machines to count paper ballots.”
- In 1982, Nebraska became the first US state to implement an electronic vote-counting (“ballot tabulator”) system called the American Information Systems (AIS) model 315. In 2002, Georgia became the first state to “use of direct recording electronic (DREs) voting machines on a statewide basis.”
- On July 29, 2017, an annual hacking and cybersecurity convention, called DEF CON, hosted their first-ever “hackathon” to exposing any security flaws in the machines’ defenses. The event “turned up at least 18 new vulnerabilities to e-voting and e-poll book systems.”
- A March 2022 Rassmussen Report on election integrity found that of those surveyed, “52% of voters say that it is likely that ‘cheating affected the outcome of the 2020 presidential election,’ with 40% saying it was unlikely. Broken along party lines, 75% were Republican and 59% were Democrat.
Voting in US elections should not be done electronically, and certainly not without a hard copy paper ballot. Electronic voting has developed a troubled reputation during the last few decades, as security concerns and technological shortcomings have made themselves known.
Information security is paramount to maintaining the legitimacy of democracy, and there have been several instances where hackers have demonstrated the weaknesses of existing systems. Due to a 'hire the lowest bidder' mentality and the lawsuit-prone suppliers protecting lucrative contracts, it's unlikely a high-caliber, secure e-voting system will ever be put into place without radical changes to how American elections are conducted.
Existing e-voting machines become quickly dated, aren't always in good condition, and can feature confusing user interfaces. While all these issues could theoretically be resolved, fixing the issue across the board is highly unlikely in a country where the Constitution mandates that individual states run and conduct their local elections. Any hopes for secure online (remote) voting are even more far-fetched, and every nation that's tried it, save Estonia, has subsequently backed away from it.
Meanwhile, vote-by-mail has proven an effective way to make it easier for people to vote while retaining a paper trail, and it cannot be digitally hacked or manipulated. Rather than hoping for people to be able to vote electronically, Americans concerned about voting access should consider advocating for the nationwide adoption of vote-by-mail. And for those concerned about increasing election security, voter ID to accompany registration, voting in person and even absentee, is a great way to make sure every ballot is accounted for and lawful.
The sanctity of elections is one of the reasons why American democracy has endured for nearly two hundred and fifty years. Democracy needs to evolve with the needs of the American electorate, which often includes incorporating more technology to assist voters in casting ballots in US elections. Voting in the modern day should be done entirely electronically.
It is possible to develop applications that manage confidential data. Banking and consumer retail companies have developed tools for transacting businesses that have gained wide acceptance. These industries have also identified best practices for ensuring safety, confidentiality, and data integrity. Similar best practices can easily be applied to building secure voting applications.
Electronic voting would raise participation in US elections. Turnout was only 56% in the 2016 presidential election and 66.8% in 2020, and is typically less for off-year elections and is even lower for younger voters. For many prospective voters, the inability to take off work or access a polling place means they simply do not participate. Electronic voting would eliminate the need to schedule time for and find transportation to a polling place on Election Day.
Finally, with the advent of COVID forcing the need for social distancing, finding virtual and alternative ways of accessing public services became essential for preserving public health. With the government establishing various lockdowns, visiting polling places was more hazardous than in past voting seasons. Now is the time to develop new ways of voting, as experts predict an estimated $1 billion price tag to make voting by mail an option nationwide. America's institutions endure through reliance on available technology. Voting is no exception.