Sunday, January 29, 2012

How States Are Using Online Cloud-Based Voting Systems...

For the past decade there has been a gradual, but hesitant, move towards Internet voting in elections. During this 2012 presidential primary season, several states including Virginia, Florida, and California have enabled such online balloting for U.S. citizens living overseas.

If you were making a pros and cons list of Internet voting, it generally looks something like this... Internet voting is great because it makes voting more accessible, but not-so-great because it can lead to electoral fraud. There are other issues that arise as well, such as the importance of a paper trail, aiding voter intent, and requiring transparency in the software's code. But the discussion usually hinges foremost on the conflict between these two core values of increasing accessibility and preventing fraud.

How does the current system work in those states? According to Information Week, an application named LiveBallot - based on Microsoft's Azure cloud infrastructure - ensures the ballots are from legitimate voters by having people use unique identifying information to access their ballots online. Once received, the signature on the ballot is matched with registration records to further verify identity.

The system allows voters registered to vote in primaries who live overseas to have access to ballots 45 days before the election. It also helps solve previous problems with absentee ballots, where often voters did not receive their ballots in time to vote or where their ballots didn't arrive back in the U.S. in time to be counted in the election results.

To get a sense of some opinions on this matter, check out this Slashdot thread. Theories abound from the conspiracy-minded, as to be expected, but there are also some genuinely thoughtful questions being asked about, for example, why such an application needs to be cloud-based at all.

Will it matter? In Virginia, Florida, and California we'll see soon enough. Granted, this is just for the primaries, not the general election, and the number of registered primary voters living overseas who will participate is considerably small relative to those states' populations. For now, this is really just an alternative to absentee ballots. Nevertheless, it's worth following how the states fulfill their role as policy laboratories, experimenting with new ideas. Let's see what works and what doesn't before anything goes national.


At 5:14 PM, Blogger William J. Kelleher, Ph.D. said...

Hi Rob! RE pros/cons of Internet voting there is way more to it than what you said. If organized right, Internet voting elections can neutralize the power of Big Money in all US elections. It can shift governing power from the 1% to the voting majority. It can empower the moderate middle over the extreme partisans. Check out my blog for more...
Also, only West Virginia has true Internet voting for its overseas military (ballot return on secure website) Lets talk!

William J. Kelleher, Ph.D.
Political Scientist, author, speaker,
CEO for The Internet Voting Research and Education Fund, a CA Nonprofit Foundation
Twitter: wjkno1

Author of Internet Voting Now!

At 11:06 AM, Blogger Robert J. Domanski said...

Hi William, thanks for the thoughtful comment. First of all, of course you're right that there is way more to the issue than what I originally posted. I was trying to do a one-sentence summary for my readership that doesn't follow these things very closely, and, in this post, I really wanted to keep a narrow focus on the cloud-based technology those three states are using.

Because I do follow this issue quote closely, however, I'm interested in your claims about 1) neutralizing the power of Big Money, 2) shifting governing power away from the elite, and 3) empowering moderates over extremists.

I would argue that Internet voting would lead to none of these things, at least in a meaningful way affecting electoral outcomes. Making it slightly easier for people to vote doesn't mean those people will be any less susceptible to the influence of Big Money advertising. Also, as I'm sure you know, Internet voting will disproportionately empower certain demographic groups in the population - young, educated, and more affluent voters - possibly at the expense of others who lack home Internet access or the requisite skills necessary - the elderly and those from lower income groups.

While we can certainly have a thoughtful debate about these things (which I would enjoy), the issue as it currently stands in this presidential primary season is still focused on little more than providing an alternative to absentee balloting. Surely, that's not going to significantly change the overall governing power dynamic in the United States.


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