Whether you're feeling politically elated or intellectually hungover -- or both -- after the weeks of campaigning and last night's outcome, you surely can't have failed to notice that the mechanisms of democracy are increasingly creaky.
From around the country, we heard horror stories of multiple-hour waits to vote. In Colorado, voters who recalled the process taking twenty to thirty minutes in past elections stood in line for two to three hours. This is partly a result of increased voter turnout, which hit a 40-year high in 2008, although it dropped off slightly this year. It might also have something to with increased bureaucracy at the polling stations and a lack of clarity about voter ID laws.
At least we can all be grateful, I think, that the 2012 election wasn't decided in Florida, because last time I looked the margin between the candidates was 0.53 percent, which is perilously close to recount territory. And we all remember what a Florida recount is like.
Surely it's time to bid a fond farewell to this vintage system of booths and ballot boxes? There must be a better way to do this: e-voting, maybe? Imagine a Web page, live for a limited time, where you could register and cast your vote without even getting out of bed. Imagine texting your vote. Imagine instant, real-time tabulation of results, producing a winner the moment the poll closes.
After all, if the world's financial markets conduct millions of complex transactions online, surely the Internet is good enough for something as simple as voting. Sadly, it seems the answer is: not yet.
Why? Viruses could intercept votes on vulnerable computers. Voters could be misdirected to fake polling pages. And above all, voting is anonymous. If your credit card is hacked, you'll find out. If your vote is misappropriated, or just lost, you won't, especially if the system dispenses with a paper trail.
Certainly, the existing systems aren't invulnerable to fraud, or just incompetence, but the main obstacle to e-voting is the perennial problem of trusted identities in cyberspace, compounded by the traditional principle of secret balloting. E-voting wants to square the circle of guaranteeing that you are authentically casting your own vote, while dissociating your identity from the vote cast.
It seems hopeless, but there are some smart people out there, and the demand for a more streamlined approach to balloting is only going to grow.
E-voting is still a little far off in my opinion, for instance if a web based solution is decided upon, apart from the snags disucssed here in the article, the web design would have to spot on, because in such a crtical application user efficiency in paramount. In addition, people would have to trained beforehand to insure that at the time of voting they aren't confused and the whole affair isn't turned upside down. These are just few kinks that'd need to be straightened out, in one possible approach, I'd imagine similar concerns to span over other avenues as well.
E-voting must and should be adopted, even though with the drawbacks. In terms of security, government regulations must ensure that all the polling stations are open source and ensure anti-fraud systems. We see concrete examples of frauds been encountered manually, we need a change, a change in-terms of electronic mediums due to the huge technological shifts as compared to the last few years.
The line problem was caused in large part by Republican secretaries of state and clerks that deliberately made it harder to vote in districts likely to vote Democratic, such as by limiting hours, limiting the number of stations, making it more difficult to vote absentee, and by instituting unnecessary voter ID laws.
Really, you think this is all going to magically get fixed by switching to e-voting? I've got a bridge to sell you. Keep in mind that the e-voting system set up for New Jersey was a dismal failure -- for being too popular.
With some of the stories coming out about the thwarting of planned hacks, I'm personally ready to go back to paper, as others have suggested, where we only have to worry about voter fraud on a retail level rather than the wholesale level possible with computer-based voting.
Ronald L. Rivest, a computer scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said that for now, the best technology out there is the one we've been using.
"Winston Churchill had a famous saying that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried before," Mr. Rivest said. "You can apply the same statement to paper ballots, which are the worst form of voting, but better than all the others that have been tried before."
Mr. Rivest, who is the R in the name of the RSA encryption system, which is used by government institutions and banks, said that if things went wrong on Election Day, chaos could ensue, because doubts about the results would rattle the foundations of our democracy.
"One of the main goals of the election is to produce credible evidence to the loser that he's really lost," he said. "When you have complicated technology, you really do have to worry about election fraud."
So what's the solution? Ms. Simons and Mr. Rivest both seemed certain that the best alternative was to stick with a technology that's a couple of thousand years old. "Paper," they both said, as if reading from the same script. "Paper ballots."
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