How the Internet Will Improve the Institution of Voting
There is no better feeling of civic engagement than the long wait in the voting line at the local fire station, public school, or town hall. The worker at the table greets you warmly or frigidly, depending on how long the worker had been handing out ballots that day, and you take your ballot to the voting booth. After selecting your choice of candidates you finish the ballot and drop it in the large box or run it through a scanner. Today, a new phenomenon is making an appearance in contrast with the traditional voting structure. This experience is Internet voting. Many companies like Lucent, Xerox, and Chevron have recently utilized the accessibility of the Internet to conduct shareholder voting online. In the political spectrum, there was never a successful catalyst to spur binding elections via the Internet until the unique situation brought about by the 2000 Arizona Presidential preference primary. Republican lawmakers in Arizona used the political clout of the majority in both houses to force the Democrats into a private primary. This unique event spurred a creative mode of thinking from top Arizona Democrats, who decided to add the option of voting online to the already traditional modes of voting on-site. The website election.com was chosen as the vendor and the online voting commenced for four days before the election date. (Solop 1) The results of the 2000 Arizona primary are the main sources of data that will be used to reinforce the notion that the net benefits of Internet voting outweigh the costs. Increases in voter participation from the disabled population and the younger population as well as ancillary benefits like the ability to get more information on the candidates before voting, avoiding severe weather conditions, a more accurate vote count, and the sense of providing more options strengthen the case for
internet voting implementation across the United States. Skeptics contend that Internet voting is a poor idea because of potential security infractions, under-representation in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the inability to re-count ballots. These concerns will be mitigated by examples from the 2000 Arizona primary, new technological advances, and the further assimilation of computers into the American lifestyle.
Increasing Voter Participation Voter participation is always the macro goal of any election. The Internet opens the door to many voters who would not normally go to the polls. The ease of logging into a website and selecting a candidate is a much more viable option for voting than driving to the polls, waiting in line, and returning home after voting. In the 2000 Arizona primary, “the rate of turnout grew seven hundred twenty-three percent between 1996 and 2000. In terms of absolute number of people voting, turnout in the 2000 election was five hundred seventy nine percent larger”(Solop 2). The reversal of this historically low-turnout election represents the strongest evidence for the implementation for Internet voting. Opponents to this proposal are quick to criticize these statistics. Critics point out that there are many other variables that could have bloated the voter turnout for this particular election. First, there is the possibility that voter turnout increased because of the large amount of media attention given to the first binding political election. (Solop 2) Secondly, some contend that there could have been an across-the-board increase in voter participation in primaries for that year. Lastly, the increase could be due to the availability of the Internet in Arizona. It is unmistakable that
there was a moderate media influence in the election. Even though there are no statistics and figures to draw from, it is pretty evident from the size of the increase that the media influence was only one of a number of factors influencing voter participation. All voters in Arizona were mailed instructions for online voting and receiving a security-enabled pass code. The sheer amount of pre-voting participation of the electorate could also be a positive factor enhancing voter turnout. When citizens are thinking about the election weeks in advance at a level beyond that of reading candidate biographies and viewing advertisements on television voter turnout is almost guaranteed to improve. The contention of increased overall voter participation in the Democratic primaries throughout the country has been proven false from numerical data collected on the 2000 voters. In the 2000 Democratic primaries, fifteen states experienced an increase in voter turnout and another fifteen experienced a decrease in turnout. The median rate of turnout was –3.16 percent over the United States. Rhode Island landed second to Arizona with a massive four hundred nineteen percent turnout, still three hundred four percent lower than the results in Arizona. (Solop 2) There were no available sources on the cause for the increase in voter turnout in the Rhode Island election besides a seemingly close race between Al Gore and Bill Bradley. The availability of the Internet is exactly why Internet voting should be expanded throughout the country. With Internet access voters can cast their ballot twenty-four hours a day during the time allotted to the Internet vote. Absentee voters would have the opportunity to vote during the election from the comfort of their own home instead of making sure they request an absentee ballot weeks before the actual election. This unique element will benefit those who either forget to register for an absentee ballot,
think that absentee ballots are worth less than a vote cast at a booth because they are only counted in the event of a close race, and think an absentee ballot is too difficult to obtain. Internet voting increases voter turnout, regardless of the burdens of traffic conditions, postal service delays, and weather disturbances. Also, blind and disabled people may have the opportunity to vote via the Internet without assistance from others. (Hoffman and Cranor 1) Instead of enduring the constant burden of driving disabled citizens to the polls, a computer with Internet access could be conveniently brought to each location. These arguments point to the positive outlook for voter turnout as a result of adding the Internet voting option in elections for political office.
Options and Adaptability Just as access to the Internet opened up a significant amount of information and options at the fingertips of the public, so does Internet voting. Website and the data systems used for backup can be altered in many ways to enable a new generation of more informed and politically savvy voters. Instead of trying to create different ballots for voters of different ethnicities and languages, the websites could provide an option for a multitude of languages so that constituents that prefer to read their ballot in a different language can to vote in the election. There are other options available to create a more informed voter through the Internet. “Internet voting can make it easier for voters to get information about candidates and ballot questions when they are deciding how to vote”(Hoffman and Cranor 2). Internet voting could allow voters more time to sit at their desks pondering their opinions on various ballot initiatives. When a voter is standing at a voting booth running their eyes quickly over the ballot questions
there may be uninformed and careless votes executed. In addition to sending a pamphlet describing current referendums there could be a description of the initiative before each ballot question, allowing the voter more information and time to ponder these important decisions. In addition to options at the voting booth, Internet voting exemplifies another convenient voting method in addition to the techniques already available in different states. The Arizona Democratic Party sent notice of its upcoming presidential preference primary election to the state’s 849,000 registered Democrats. The text…included an Official Voting Certificate with unique credentials for each voter’s authentication (online)…The Party also outlined a ”vote-by-mail” application; voting remotely via the Internet March 7-10; and casting a ballot at a physical polling place on Election Day, March 11. (Mohen and Glidden 2) The full-scale replacement of physical polling locations and absentee ballots with Internet voting is not a logical choice for the near-term, yet implementation and a longitudinal study completed years after online voting implementation will possibly show a trend towards greater usage of Internet voting. To ready a computer system for online voting takes a great deal of time and money, and if no evidence of an increase in turnout is available, the benefit of ease of use alone would not be sufficient to justify the recurrence of this method in future elections. However, data from a study from Frederic Solop of Northern Arizona University depicts forty-one percent of the Arizona primary voters choosing to use the Internet when voting. Mail-in ballots were next with thirty-eight percent of the voting public. This information was pooled with post-election survey evidence that depicted approximately two percent of Internet voters and eight percent of all other voters responding that they were less likely to vote in all future elections if the Internet was available. While most
voters stated that the availability of the Internet did not factor in their decision to vote, thirty-four percent of Internet voters and nine percent of all other voters found that the availability of the Internet would make them more likely to vote in future elections. (Solop, Tables 1&4) Pre-election, the percent of Internet voters more likely to vote with available Internet voting in the future stood at twenty-six percent. The twenty-five percent pre-election and post-election difference from the Internet voters is significant because it showed that Internet voters had such a positive experience voting that they would continue their practice in the future. This body of evidence shows that a new segment of the population is being reached by Internet voting that was previously nonexistent. This is further evidence that Internet voting was a positive experience for the public in Arizona and can be used as a tool to increase voter turnout. The unparalleled levels of accuracy are further justification for the implementation of Internet voting. The whole country looked upon recounts of the Florida ballots to determine the winner of the presidency. The human error factor could be eliminated with the widespread use of Internet voting. Granted, wide scale online voting usage is a future goal and not a current demand. The conversion to online voting will take a long period of transition to be realized. The next segment of the paper will deal with the potential problems associated with expanding to Internet voting throughout the United States. Each drawback will be analyzed for its positive and negative aspects, and an evaluation of each problem will follow.
Security Issues The Internet is a wonderful tool for expanding boundaries, but there are security flaws that can hamper or even shut down an Internet vote. For example, four percent of registered Democrats in the 2000 Arizona Democratic primary tried to vote online but could not because of a variety of reasons and did not cast a ballot. Some voters claimed they did not receive their PIN numbers through postal mail to gain the ability to log online and cast a ballot. The PIN is a unique personal identification number sent to all Democrats in the mail to ensure that each voter is voting only once. Other voters were not allowed onto the website election.com at all because their “computers were not able to accept “cookies” or small programs from Internet sites”(Solop 2). Some computers were not able to access the website because their Internet browsers were so old that they could not reach the secured section of election.com. These predicaments represented a majority of the problems dealt with in Arizona’s voting experiment. In an effort to provide the greatest utility, voters must be given a long period of time to upgrade to new web browsers online and to receive their PIN numbers for these problems to be minimized. A security problem larger than browser errors was the denial-of-service attacks and the potential for virus attacks. Potential hackers could have gotten on the online voting system and flood the lines so that the system slows down and no one can vote. However, through the use of intrusion detection software, all threats to the server were deflected and eliminated. The Arizona primary did not experience a slowing due to intrusion by hackers. (Mohen and Glidden 5)
The prevalence of viruses such as the Trojan Horse put voting online at risk. “Critics contend that a malicious payload in the form of a virus could be delivered through the Internet, permitting a malefactor to view or, worse, manipulate a vote without the users knowledge”(Mohen and Glidden 5). The only way to minimize the potential for virus intrusion is to purchase expensive software to monitor and dispose of relevant attacks to the system. The potential for fraud is greater online than using the physical polling location. With the current system, the tampering of votes would normally occur within one location or district. However, a successful hacker would have access to the voting record of the entire country assuming all records would be tallied in one place. (Mercuri 2) If the Internet voting were disturbed, it would be impossible to recount every individual ballot because all entries are digitized and considered to be anonymous. Security systems would have to be extremely diligent in their efforts to curtail this type of corruption for Internet voting to lay a strong groundwork for success in future balloting.
Unequal Representation Similar to security breaches, if there is a determination that Internet voting promotes unequal representation then the entire system must be discarded or altered. Soon after the Arizona announcement to experiment with Internet voting the “Voting Integrity Project of Virginia filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction against Internet voting”(Solop 2). The group also argued that Arizona needed clearance from the United States Justice Department and that the digital divide creates discrimination acting in violation of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. (Solop 2) The Democratic Party of Arizona agreed to get clearance from the Justice Department but contested the discriminatory
practice allegation. A federal judge later ruled that too little was known about the digital divide to rule an injunction against Internet voting. If sufficient research was completed and new facts would represent just cause for a second hearing an additional trial date would be set. However, the questions regarding unequal representation remain. Is this the beginning of the end of the time-honored ritual of submitting physical ballots? “Does it unfairly disadvantage minority groups statistically less likely to have computers in their homes?”(Hoffman and Cranor 2). As recent as 2004, many forms and tax returns filled out for the state and federal government are completed online. Our society and administration have embraced technology, and allowing the Internet vote is well overdue. Minority voters have the opportunity to vote at locations with public access to the Internet such as schools and libraries. “In the 2000 Arizona primary, members of Dogonvillage.com, an African-American group based in Phoenix, drove around town for days with laptops, dialing-in from churches, restaurants, supermarkets, and barber shops to enable people to vote”(Hoffman and Cranor 2). Others contend that because only fifty percent of American families have computers in the household those voters will have an unfair advantage compared to those without computers. That logic parallels a claim of an unfair advantage to those who are not handicapped because they have easier access to the polls. The physical polling locations are not going to be abolished. Internet voting is simply another tool to increase voter turnout, mainly among the younger and disabled voting populations.
The Emergence of the Youth Vote The increase in voter participation spurred by Internet voting was evident in the Arizona primary. The typical Internet voters were high income rather than low, white, male, and more educated citizens. Furthermore, more middle-aged and younger voters voted online. It is understood that the younger population consistently shows low rates of turnout in political elections. If the institution of Internet voting brings young voters to the ballot website every two years, there could be a major shift in policy and campaigning to the youth of America. There could be two possible profiles of those who chose to vote via Internet who would not normally cast a ballot: an informed voter without a way to get to the polls before they close or a voter who is too lazy to cast a ballot. The goal of Internet voting is to tap the first group stated above. If there is a solid body of evidence citing laziness as the reason for not casting a ballot at a physical polling station, then Internet Voting should not persist. As John F. Kennedy once stated, “the ignorance of a single person in a democracy impairs the security of all.” Voters who lack the sufficient knowledge to make informed decisions expose themselves to the risk of being manipulated by others. Such widespread remote voting creates possibilities for coercion. Relatives and friends present at the time of the ballot casting could put pressure on the voter to choose a certain candidate over another. Such pressure is the antithesis of a straightforward vote. (Hoffman and Cranor) Furthermore, with the option of voting during a long span of time, voters can log online, take a quick look at candidate biographies, and make a vote shortly after. This problem occurs to a smaller extent with absentee ballots but the problem would be much greater if the majority of Internet voters were casting ballots in this
fashion. In Federalist No. 63, James Madison contended that there are moments “when the people, stimulated by some irregular passion…may call for measures which they themselves will afterwards be more ready to lament and condemn. This instant democracy prevents the voter from obtaining facts closer to Election Day. In reality, it seems that coercion will consist of an extremely small percentage of the vote. In response to the direct democracy argument, the three to five day online voting period before Election Day is usually enough time to accumulate a large knowledge base on the candidates. It is rare for tide-turning events to come to light the day before the election. While these issues do require further research, more Internet elections must be executed to increase the base of knowledge for analysis on future action.
Future Action The 1999 California Internet Voting Task Force recommended that on-site online voting be established before remote Internet voting to bring forth evolutionary change in voting as opposed to revolutionary change. Currently there is too little known of the real impact of Internet elections on the electing of public officials. The small numbers of Internet elections that have already occurred allow a peek inside the extensive potential online voting represents. The Task Force encouraged a slow implementation to allow for software improvements and further evaluations. (California Internet Voting Task Force) --At 12:01am on Tuesday, March 7, the Arizona Elections Board online voting helpdesk was bombarded with phone calls from constituents asking for help with their Internet ballot. The stream of questions did not subside until the physical polling places
and election.com closed. This illustrates of the large amount of confusion caused by the concept of an Internet election in 2000. In 2005, it appears that more households have computers than ever before. Arizonians may not have been fully computer literate, but he trend towards affordable computing is slowly giving Internet access to a large percentage of low-income families. The increase in voter participation is evident, but there are real questions as to whether or not high-income voters would be attaining an even larger percent of the voting public with Internet voting. Also, the changing voter turnout of the “lazy young voter” is a subject that demands more further research and surveying. It is evident that the long-term outlook for Internet voting is bright. Equalities in representation will be brought about by a more widespread use of computers and the Internet. The options and adaptability of Internet voting will create an overwhelmingly positive future for elections in the United States.
Works Cited California Internet Voting Task Force. A Report on the Feasibility of Internet Voting. 1st ed. California Secretary of State Bill Jones, 2000.
Hoffman, Lance, and Lorrie Cranor. "Internet Voting for Public Officials." Communications of the ACM 44.1: 11/28/05. <http://delivery.acm.org/10.1145/360000/357510/p69hoffman.pdf?key1=357510&key2=7573333311&coll=GUIDE&dl=GUIDE&CFID=61741755 &CFTOKEN=31193705>.
Madison, James. "The Federalist no. 63." Independant Journal1788.
Mercuri, Rebecca. "A Better Ballot Box?" IEEE Xplore. 2004 <http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/iel5/6/22256/1038569/1038569.html?isNumber=22256&arn umber=1038569∏=JNL&arSt=+46&ared=+50&arAuthor=Mercuri%2C+R.>.
Mohen, Joe, and Julie Glidden. "The Case for Internet Voting." Communications of the ACM 44.1: 11/28/05. <http://delivery.acm.org/10.1145/360000/357511/p72mohen.html?key1=357511&key2=8863333311&coll=GUIDE&dl=ACM&CFID=61741702& CFTOKEN=92686552>.
Solop, Frederic I. "Digital Democracy Comes of Age: Internet Voting and the 2000 Arizona Democratic Primary Election." PSOnline (08/31/00) <http://ball.tcnj.edu/pols291/readings/036015SolopFrede.pdf>.