Commentary

02.11.15

Could Online Voting Be in Your Future?

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Voting Online

You know the stories: thousands of people disenfranchised at the polls because of identification issues; workers unable to vote because of limited voting hours; and those long, long lines of voters at the polls during national elections.

Judging from accounts like these, it is hard to doubt that certain voting laws make access to the polls increasingly difficult for greater numbers of people. As an organization whose goal is to protect and expand people’s constitutional rights, the ACLU must not only fight exclusionary measures, but also explore methods through which people’s access to the vote could be expanded.

So, what about online voting?

The Pros

U.S. elections require voters to either go to the polls or to mail in absentee ballots. However, if we want to make voting more accessible to greater numbers of people, online voting may be a possible option. Switzerland, Australia, Estonia, and certain parts of Canada have seen positive results from adopting Internet voting.

Voting online is easier and more accessible for more segments of voters, including students, workers, people with illnesses or disabilities, those living overseas or serving in the military, people who may be out of town during an election, and anyone with limited transportation. In particular, it could benefit voters with illnesses and disabilities. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, around 2.3 million Americans reported not voting due to a disability or illness in the 2008 elections. Like voting by mail, it would allow people to vote at times that are convenient for them rather than set hours on Election Day.

For more information, check our website for voting rights issues.

Online voting has the potential to streamline the elections process. There could be increased efficiency, with faster results and higher accuracy. Once established, it could reduce the need for Election Day polling places. Long lines would be a thing of the past.

The Cons

For online voting to succeed, voters must trust the technology. It would have to be extremely secure to ensure that hackers could not change votes, commit acts of cyber terrorism, cause voter fraud, or reveal the identity of voters. There could also be serious privacy breaches by the government or security agencies, even where the government could surreptitiously track what is cast on a person’s ballot. Finally, having the wrong software or a poor implementation of the system could wreak havoc with election results.

Another concern regards voter coercion. Some worry that having voting in private locations rather than public ones could increase voter coercion where employers, political operatives or family members could pressure or bribe a person to vote a certain way.

Over 20 percent of Americans do not have Internet access at home, which highlights the persistent digital gap in our country between those who have the resources to access information and communication technology and those who do not. This gap is especially present for many of those who are traditionally disenfranchised, such as people of color and low-income individuals. Online voting could potentially perpetuate voter disenfranchisement, further exacerbating the economic and social inequality in our country.

Balancing It Out

In concept, online voting could greatly improve ease of access to the polls for many people; however, the feasibility and trust of the process rely on technology so secure that it may not yet exist.

Regardless of whether online voting is a possibility for Americans today, tomorrow, or never, the ACLU’s goal stays the same—bringing everyone’s voice to the ballot box.

Lauren Kohler was an intern with the ACLU of Ohio in January 2015.  

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