The Voting Integrity Project's primary mission is to educate and equip Americans to protect election integrity in their own communities. Our experience in monitoring failed elections shows us that where voter turnouts are low there is also a lack of civic involvement in the electoral process, resulting in higher levels of election fraud. Thus, any system which can increase voter participation may also improve election integrity.
With its ease of use and decreasing equipment and access costs, the Internet offers the potential not only to increase awareness of issues and candidates, but make voting convenient and pleasant. There are enticing benefits promised by on-line voting -- home-bound, military or other overseas citizens, and other special circumstance voters might be better served by some sort of Internet voting system.
Also, Internet voting may be more suitable for some jurisdictions than others. For example, the computer literacy levels of Silicon Valley could unsurprisingly translate into higher voter turnouts with Internet voting.
This paper is not intended to be an exhaustive examination of the issue, but represents the beginning of on-going study by VIP of "internet voting." It is difficult to critique the concept of Internet voting without reference to a specific model. Several scenarios are currently being touted:
- As a substitute/supplement to current absentee balloting procedures;
- Where the internet is used as a communication medium to transmit vote counts from polling locations to a central vote-tabulation location;
- Where computers would be used as voting kiosks in publicly accessed, non-traditional areas such as shopping malls, factories, and airports;
- Where personal computers would be used as voting locations in individual voters' homes, possibly with special peripherals for identity verification, to access Internet election sites.
Most discussion about Internet voting focuses on its potential to increase access to the voting process. As described by one Internet voting proponent, Bill Gates:
"Voting is an important example of an information activity that could be improved with the help of the Internet. Where I live, we vote for judges, but I often don't know who deserves my ballot, since little information about their judicial records is readily available. I look forward to an Internet-based alternative. Instead of voting in person or mailing in an absentee ballot, I expect to be able to vote from my PC. While pondering the choices at my leisure, I'll be able to see what the candidates say about themselves, listen to speeches they've given, check their judicial records, read or watch news reports, survey their endorsements or the recommendations of nonpartisan groups, or even ask individuals I trust who they intend to vote for - all electronically. The result will be a better-informed vote, and probably greater participation." 1
Proponents tend to gloss over or ignore concerns about identity verification and do not usually address the deficiencies and dangers of current election administration.
In order to dissect the potential public policy issues surrounding Internet voting, one must begin with an understanding of the Internet itself. Ford and Baum describe the Internet as, "an extraterritorial entity that is neither controlled nor controllable by any government or organization, but instead operates exclusively on a basis of mutual cooperation. The internet can best be described as controlled chaos." 2
Many Americans may find disturbing the idea that an "extraterritorial entity" could have any role in securing our elections, let alone the concept of our ballots being cast through a system of "controlled chaos." Some may interpret the move toward Internet voting as yet another step toward one-world government.
Consider IBM Chairman and CEO Lou Gerstner's recent statement regarding Internet voting before the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress: "So why not envision a day when we vote with much greater convenience - from our home or workplace - or a day beyond that when issues are presented to all the people of the world and we vote as a global statement of individual preference without regard for conventions like political parties or national borders?" 3
Marc Strassman, Executive Director of the Campaign for Digital Democracy and President of VoteSite.com, an internet voting company, was more direct: "The result could be a global aggregation and merging of like-minded individuals and groups to form global parties, which could pursue "free-trade-with-a-vengeance" or "the environment-first" agendas, working up and down the jurisdictional ladder worldwide to implement their preferred policies. Such a politics [sic] would eventually undermine the authority of nation states, which might, under the impact of globalized Internet voting and its offshoots, go the way Italy and France may soon go as a result of the creation of the European Union." 4
The Voting Integrity Project supports any election technology that increases voter participation while safeguarding election integrity. However, one of the principal problems with election integrity today - the large number of unqualified and fraudulently registered names on voter registration records - would not be addressed by any of the current internet voting models. 5 In fact, when vote thieves can avoid in-person voting, they can more easily avoid detection and more easily commit fraud. This is why absentee ballot fraud is the current method of choice for stolen elections. Internet voting may offer similar opportunities for vote thieves to cast fraudulent votes without detection.
The claims that Internet voting will increase voter participation have been made for other well-intentioned election policies such as early voting, no-fault absentee ballots, and mail-only balloting. However, a recent study indicates the opposite may be the case - that recent attempts to push turnout by changing the timing and nature of voting have actually resulted in lower turnouts. Of even more concern, where such policies have been implemented, little consideration has been given to election integrity impacts.
For Internet voting to become a reality, it must be able to meet the same requirements that current public elections are required (though increasingly fail) to meet - guarantee of ballot secrecy, guarantee of ballot sanctity, and universal availability.
Election integrity advocates such as The Voting Integrity Project consider a secure, universally available Internet voting system to be the Holy Grail. Whether such a system is achievable in the volatile world of the Internet remains in doubt. Exactly what the standards should be for security, privacy and accessibility of an Internet voting system is a public policy question that is just beginning to be debated.
1. "Better government? Sure, in the Information Age," July 10, 1996, by Bill Gates, Http://www.microsoft.com/BillGates/columns/1996essay/ESSAY960710.HTM.
2. "Secure Electronic Commerce: Building the Infrastructure for Digital Signatures and Encryption," Warwick Ford and Michael S. Baum, 1997 Prentice Hall PTR p.22.
3. "IBM CEO sees country on path toward online voting," IDG News Service, June 14, 1999.
4. "Could the Internet Change Everything?" IntellectualCapital.com, June 17, 1999.
5. Implementation in 1995 of The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 is often referred to as "Motor Voter" because it made registration forms available at departments of motor vehicles and other public offices. The NVRA not only authorized mail-in registration, but also removed requirements for proof of identity when registering to vote. This and other changes in election administration have resulted in a resource pool of fraudulent names that can be used by votes thieves to steal elections.
Next Section: Hurtling Toward Cyber Elections
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