We’ve talked about how campaigns are changing to accommodate
a virtual presence in games like Second Life and a real-world campaign
We’ve talked about how government is increasingly involving itself in
virtual worlds as cheap, effective means of spreading information.
But what about the voter? When does the ballot box move online? Pixels and Policy explores the technological problems and hard work needed to bring online voting to America.
Online voting currently suffers from two technical obstacles: security
and accessibility. Of these, security remains a persistent issue. Second Life
accounts are a constant target of scammers and hackers, and anyone who has
recently played a browser game like Runescape understands how prevalent phising schemes remain.
The Best (Virtual) Defense
But as we’ve seen from NATO’s
recent plan to construct a virtual headquarters, security is no longer the
insurmountable issue it was several years ago.
The flawed belief that an online
voting system would exist on a network like that of Second Life is finally
giving way to what may eventually become a workable online voting system run by
governments and protected in much the same way as our current national security
At one point last summer, the Pentagon suffered nearly one million
cyber-attacks in a single day, requiring tough new standards on the use of
Despite these assaults, no sensitive information was
compromised. Though it is unnerving to consider the scale of attacks against
Pentagon software, the system performed as intended.
An online voting system could work in much the same
way online license plate renewal works, but with additional technological safeguards. There is evidence we're moving in this direction already – in 2004, the Pentagon piloted the Secure Electronic Registration and Voting Experiment. It performed to task, but the powers that be opted against expansion of the program.
After a few confirmation screens (and a clearly visible
phone number to call if you are in need of voting assistance) you might have
the option of printing out a copy of your electronic ballot. If you see any
problems after submitting your ballot, you can contact the local Election
Committee. For those who feel uncomfortable, the old method of physical voting
will still be available.
Online voting has the potential to expand representation to
millions of plugged-in Americans who don’t vote in the traditional way.
allowing the online voter to cast a ballot at any time (with the understanding
that they can change that ballot at any point before the close of physical
polling places on election night) we don’t confine the electorate to voting in
one twelve-hour window on a work day.
For those who worry about all of those e-ballots sitting
around weeks before an election, consider absentee ballots. These fill the same
early-voting purposes as a proposed online system, but instead of being stored
in a database, these votes are literally boxed up and left in a warehouse until
counting time comes around.
Public education on how virtual voting works will be necessary. There's also a major trust issue – some people just aren't going to trust the government regardless of how they innovate. But this is no reason to stop innovating.
Public education on virtual voting won't be an easy task. It involves reaching out to the virtual world while airing an extensive old-media public relations campaign on the airwaves.
It involves real-world town hall discussions to explain to voters what virtual voting means, and, yes, why you can still only vote once. If our handling of the analog television phase-out is any indication, a public education plan would have to hit the streets years before the implementation of electronic/virtual voting.
Regardless of the initial problems of bringing virtual voting to America, its civic benefit more than makes up for any logistical problems encountered during the infancy of the online ballot. This is America, where voting remains one of the few civic activities in which people participate.
If we can build a system that can identify retinas in airports, don't say we can't build one to enhance the voice of our citizens.