Will We Still be Using Paper Ballots in 30 Years?

More than 4 in 10 Americans don’t vote in the Presidential election.

This is something you probably already know. But it’s a little ridiculous, isn’t it? The President represents the views of less than 60% of the country. And more people vote in presidential elections than lesser elections. If we want a government that represents the views of the citizens of our country, there’s no way to look at that number and not consider our current voting system broken.

This week, the Director of the Dept. of Homeland Security revealed that it’s virtually impossible to prevent hacking of the current voting system we have:

With an increasing number of voting machines using wireless technology to collect and tabulate votes, the risk of cyber attacks has grown significantly, Johnson said. “We are actively thinking about election cybersecurity … [and] whether our election system,” he said, “is critical infrastructure … like the electric grid.

It’s not just him. Cryptographers & computer scientists are almost unanimous in their agreement that an expansion to online voting is too dangerous to try. Here’s Stanford’s David Dill making that exact point:

From the perspective of election trustworthiness, Internet voting is a complete disaster. While you can’t stop all election fraud, elections must have a higher standard of credibility. They need to have the perception of being low fraud. If you have an election system where fraud can be committed and — this is very important — that fraud is undetectable, then you don’t really have a reason to trust the outcome of the election. And that’s very bad in a democracy, because the whole goal of an election is to satisfy the people who lost the election that they lost fair and square and that the candidate who is elected is legitimate.

I bank on my phone. I exchange personal messages, financial information, and regularly share my location data on my phone. I even registered to vote on my phone. But I can’t vote on my phone — and maybe I shouldn’t be able to!

But the fact is, the current system doesn’t work as well as it should, and it’s not just because people aren’t showing up the vote by choice. The most undercovered issue of the past couple of years is the systematic purging of voter rolls, largely in areas with large numbers of minorities in Democratic-leaning parts of the South. As long as you have a system that relies on humans making judgements on whether certain forms of ID qualify, you open your electoral system up to the possibility that people will target political opponents to block them from voting.

Right now, we have a few tools for boosting voter participation, and we should be pursuing each and every one, including:

  • Vote by mail — In California, I voted by paper ballot last time around, which was the easiest thing ever. I also got to research candidates and the endless list of ballot initiatives while reading my ballot in front of my computer.
  • Same day registration
  • Allowing additional forms of ID
  • Allowing for lengthy periods of early voting.
  • Letting people vote on a day they don’t have work by allowing voting on Saturdays or declaring Election Day a national holiday.

Those battles are political ones, and they’re being fought in state legislatures across the country. Access to voting is critical. But it still may not be enough.

So what does the future look like? Am I going to be living in a Minority Report society in which I do P90X in my car on the way to work and my favorite songs play when I walk in the room, but I still vote by paper ballot?

Voting might be the one thing that can’t be digitized, but I find it hard to believe that we can’t develop tools to make it easier to vote, from fingerprint ID, to reminders on your phone during the days before Election Day, to directions for polling places that you’re nearby, to receipts of your vote that give you recourse if it was miscounted, and everything in between. Even if we never can cast a ballot on our phone, they should at the very least be doing more to help get us into the booth.

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