Is There a Tech Solution to Our Trump Problem?

Donald Trump is well on his way to locking up the nomination. What’s interesting is that last week, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Google co-founder Larry Page, and Tesla Motors founder Elon Musk all attended a secret meeting on a private island in Georgia to figure out how to stop Trump. Usually when we have a problem in Silicon Valley, we turn it over to coders. I wonder…if Cook, Page, and Musk were to turn this problem over to their teams, could they come up with a solution? Could they engineer a fix? Without a doubt, absolutely. Know why? Because there are plenty of fixes out there already.

Before I get to that, let me delve into why we have a problem in the first place. In the nutshell, the problem is us. We don’t vote. According to the Pew Research Center, through the first 12 primaries of 2016, combined Republican turnout has been 17.3 percent of eligible voters and Democratic turnout has been 11.7 percent. Those 17 percent are long-tail users, the most radical and spirited of the bunch. For them, primary voting is like a national holiday. They wouldn’t miss it any more than they’d miss opening presents on Christmas morning. This is no slam on them. In fact, good on them. The problem is the rest of us.

There is a really low tech way to innovate a future without Donald Trump — go vote. That’s all it takes. If everyone votes, then we’d get candidates that reflect a broader representative sample of the population. If only the long-tail votes, well…then you get Trump.

But, yes, I know what you’re thinking…it’s too hard! Voting at a physical location on a specific Tuesday is akin to asking you to watch analog TV with commercials without a remote control. In an age where there are apps to squeeze out every last efficiency, isn’t there a technological fix for this? Well, yes….and no.

First, there are many non-tech solutions to increase participation like:

  • Make voting day a Saturday instead of a Tuesday
  • Allow voting on multiple days like a weekend or entire week
  • Allow independents to vote in one of the party primaries (called ‘open primaries’ and some states do this)
  • Allow voting at any location, not just your local precinct

The list goes on and on. It’s not that we don’t have solutions. We don’t have the implementation.

What about tech solutions? Last Friday at SXSW, President Obama said voters should be able to vote online saying that it’s “easier to order a pizza than vote.”

Remember the 2000 election and the whole hanging chad conundrum? The promise was that everyone would go to electronic voting machines, and soon thereafter, online voting. It didn’t happen, largely because people couldn’t verify the accuracy of the machines. How does an 80 year old, non-techy election judge or small-town county clerk know that the vote count from a souped-up iPad-like voting machine is in fact the right one? No one trusted what could be lurking inside the black box.

However, if Apple can make an iPhone that the FBI can’t crack, surely we can come up with a way to securely process online ballots. Now that bio-readers like fingerprint scanner are on phones and computers, there are even more ways to ensure accuracy.

Right now, there’s no money in this. No VCs are lining up to fund solutions like these. They get a higher monetary payout funding the latest lunch delivery app. The payoff here is more societal — we don’t get a crazy president.

So Tim, Larry, and Elan, put one of your crackerjack teams on building a secure online voting system. (It will cost you less than the money you’re putting into someone’s super PAC.) For the rest of us, let your elected officials know you want voting reform, and take a very analog approach by walking to your primary election polling place.