USA, Tech, The World, Now + Beyond, Inequality

The only way to make voting truly democratic is to take it to the internet

While many people are worried about the safety of our ballots, the United States has one of the lowest voter turnouts in the developed world. The internet can solve the problems of voter turnout, and security, in one fell swoop.

Voters in Oregon have one of the most unique voting systems in the country. Every year, they wait anxiously by their mailbox for their ballot – which comes three weeks before election day. They sign their ballot and then send their votes back in the mail.

The system is completely analog – targeting the 2.7 million registered voters in the state.

It’s one of the most successful voting systems, with 68% participation – however, pride in the system is incorrectly founded. In an interview with NBC, Dennis Richardson, Oregon’s Secretary of State proudly said, “you can’t hack paper.”

In the wake of the 2016 presidential election, fears of elections being hacked by foreign adversaries are on everyone’s mind. 80% of Americans are concerned about vulnerabilities in our voting systems. Those vulnerabilities are caused by a variety of problems – from outdated voting machines to insecure connections and databases.

The bigger problem, however, is that attempts to update voting machines, or institute voting legislation, are often undermined by representatives. In the United States, voting practices are handled on the state level. When Congress proposes a change to voting, such as mandating audits to ensure voting machines are secure or requiring updates to voting infrastructure, the measures are approached with bullishness rather than common sense. Voting is considered such a precious right in the hands of the states, they resist anything that even smells like a federal referendum – causing it to get shot down.

These problems ultimately arise from policymakers being unfamiliar with technology – and unable to understand what is at risk when poor technological infrastructure is used to support a system as precious as voting. As a result, voting is kept in schools and fire departments, on machines that are insecure and vulnerable to attack.

The same technical ignorance that keeps voting machines vulnerable, is the same reason why voting is often inaccessible to the most vulnerable in our communities. Many communities have polling places that can be inconvenient, or even impossible for some constituents to reach. For example, while a 2-mile distance to a polling place is no problem for an able-bodied person, it can be inaccessible for someone who is unable to drive. This can disenfranchise a large population of voters.

One way to solve many of these problems – from our reliance on outdated voting equipment, and enabling the most vulnerable of us to vote, is voting online.

By bringing voting into the digital age, we can stop relying on outdated technology that is impossible to protect from cyber threats. Internet-based databases can be updated and protected much faster than old hardware – which is why we’re able to use servers and cloud systems to keep banking information secure. Similarly, with over 77% of American adults owning a smartphone, internet voting puts the power of the polls in your pocket.

West Virginia sees the power of online voting, and this November is launching a pilot program to out of state voters looking to cast their ballot. This year, West Virginians overseas will have the option to use an app called Voatz to participate in the midterm elections.

Voatz has the ability to bridge the gap between voter fears of a hacked election and the safety of the Oregon model. Every vote cast on the app produces multiple methods of verification including a physical paper trail, that can be used if there is a concern of election tampering.

Further, Voatz uses a security measure called blockchain, which is a growing level of encryption that is most known for its use in crypto-currencies.

Internet voting is one of the only ways that voting can truly be democratized. Almost 92 million voters – over 25% of the population of the United States did not vote in 2016.

Instead of worrying about the safety of our votes, it is much more important to worry about the accessibility of doing so in the first place. Until the entire voting process is made easier, ballots cast will not represent the values of our country.