It’s 2012- Why aren’t Americans Voting online?

Millions of Americans depend on the Internet to pay bills, communicate with friends and family, share pictures of their loved ones, conduct business, and even order dinner from the convenience of their computer, smartphone, or tablet. It’s 2012 and many of us, myself included, take advantage of the convenience that technology and broadband Internet provides on a daily basis for routine tasks such as reading the news or handling our finances via online banking.  One thing we aren’t doing online—voting. With the national presidential election already decided- the looming question is why aren’t we voting online? And if we could vote online, how many of us would?

As a busy working mom, I opted to vote early and hopefully save myself some time. Here’s how it went down. With a little bit of time off on a Friday evening before the 5 o’clock rush, my husband and I went to vote together along with our two-year-old son. Dropping him off at Grandma’s would take even more time and even though two-year olds aren’t great at waiting in lines, we’d thought we’d expose him to democracy and our privileged freedoms at an early age. It’s never too early for democracy, right?  We arrived at the early voting facility and not only was it difficult to find parking, the line was out the door and beginning to snake around the building.

It’s okay we’ve come prepared with a stroller and his favorite toddler distraction devices (toys). We joined the line and before we could even make it inside the facility we changed our minds. The lesson in democracy would have to wait, as our little dictator demanded another course of action. So unwilling to deter any more voters, we decided that his outcries of “Get me out of here! ” and wordless screams of outrage were proof enough that patience is a virtue not easily learned. The toddler wars won this round. We insured our fellow voting Americans that we would return without him and left the parking lot feeling defeated.

I dropped Daddy and a tiny angry American at home to return in just enough time to place my early vote before the polls closed. It only took about twenty minutes, which isn’t much of a wait, but mind as well be eons with a tantrum-throwing toddler. In those twenty minutes it gave me just enough time to think about voting and why weren’t we voting online in the twenty-first century yet? I wondered how many people in similar situations would not have come back to the polls that day?  I saw another parent struggling with their unhappy child, a pregnant lady resting on a chair that someone kindly fetched her, and mostly elderly eagerly waiting to cast their votes. I could count on one hand the people under age thirty and I was one of them. Where were all the people my age? How many of them would vote if it were more convenient or accessible and offered as an option online?

Besides the general attractiveness of convenience, one of the major advantages that online voting would provide is the power of enfranchisement or empowering democracy by enabling more eligible voters to cast their ballots. The Federal Communications Commission recently reported that “94% of Americans currently have access to the Internet”. Even more astounding, The Pew Internet & American Life Project estimated that up to “85% of American adults have a mobile phone” with about half of that being smart-phones  What if you could exercise your right to vote using your mobile phone? These numbers are always on the incline as more and more people are bridging the gap in technology by getting connected, upgrading to smart-phones, and broadband Internet is becoming a commonplace utility.

Advantages & Barriers of Online Voting

It’s clear that there are numerous advantages that online voting would provide, but there are some definite barriers and challenges that it faces.

Advantages

  • Increase voter turnout
  • Convenience
  • No need for transportation to the voting polls
  • Solution for absentee voters & military voting
  • Less expensive election costs

Disadvantages

  • Security
  • Anonymity
  • Voter Fraud issues
  • Internet Access issues

How is it possible for us to securely shuffle around thousands of dollars, but not vote using the same technology? The technology used for encryption, authentication, and validation used in e-commerce transactions will no doubt play a significant role in online voting- but there is a huge difference. Institutions for profit and the political election process each have very different goals. Your bank can validate charges and record a log of your financial transactions and is also responsible for correcting errors. However, when you vote, there is no confirmation or receipt to record your transaction in the way you voted other than your vote was placed.

Is online voting really that far-fetched? As some countries including Canada have already ventured into the world of online voting for their political elections, the United States has made its first steps in that direction with the military and most recently for victims affected by Hurricane Sandy. In previous elections, some states such as Arizona, have allowed their military stationed overseas to vote online.  The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy affected many potential registered voters on the East coast who were allowed to send in their ballots and votes via email. The question becomes not will we ever be allowed to vote online, but when? It takes time to change a 200 year old process and honored tradition of going to the polls to exercise our vote, but providing another option for voters that can more accurately express the will of the people by increasing voter turnout could be on the horizon sooner than one might think. William J. Kelleher, Ph.D. author of Internet Voting Now! claims, “As more and more Americans begin to wonder why they have to trek to the polls, find parking, stand in line, sometimes in rain and cold, while at the same time banking or buying books via their iPad, smart-phone, or other connected device, they will begin to demand a more up-to-date and convenient method of voting”.

Technology is ready and waiting as soon as the people start demanding it.

What about you- would you vote online if it were an option? What are some of the most important advantages and disadvantages about online voting?

 

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