Digitized Voting? Let’s Discuss It.

Steven Jost was raised in the Philadelphia area and attended Temple University. Currently living in Virginia, he owns a small sales and marketing company and is interested in politics and public policy. His work re- quires travel and engagement with many different types of everyday people who are hoping to see smart, practical solutions from their elected leaders.    Email: stvnjost@gmail.com

Steven Jost was raised in the Philadelphia area and attended Temple University. Currently living in Virginia, he owns a small sales and marketing company and is interested in politics and public policy. His work re- quires travel and engagement with many different types of everyday people who are hoping to see smart, practical solutions from their elected leaders.

Email: stvnjost@gmail.com

This is a conversation that our country needs to have. Some will say, wealready talk about elections. I would argue we complain about our elections once they have already occurred. Our comments generally deal with why the election was not conducted fairly which only further undermines confidence in our voting outcomes. 

When we think about the many complaints we hear, about our current voting process, they seem to relate to problems with: 

  • The location and number of polling places

  • Waiting in line too long

  • Missing work to vote

  • Bad weather that can affect voting 

  • Confusion about absentee ballots

  • Worry that the vote was incorrectly recorded

  • Concerns about the cost of conducting the election

Right now, between elections, is the logical time to discuss many of the necessary changes we need in order to update our voting process. I propose that fixing the voting system is a commonsense exercise and we, the voters, have the tools we need to get the job done. But we need to talk about it, promote it, and engage ourselves in the process if we are genuinely intent on creating change.

The discussion about updating the vote should not be a political exercise.It shouldn’t address whether someone is legally able to vote in the United States. This conversation addresses how the vote can be conducted fairly, securely, and conveniently so that we can encourage all those who can, to vote. Politics will eventually and inevitably affect how people view voting, but the process of voting itself should be nonpolitical, practical, and secure. 

Accuracy, convenience, and security are the three key elements to consider when updating the voting process.Accuracyto eliminate issues like hanging chads on punch cards, (which influenced the 2000 election in Florida), or partially colored dots which could be arbitrarily discounted in other states. Convenience because if we can make it easy, we get the greatest voter participation. Security so that people feel 100% confident that their vote was recorded correctly. 

There are other practical realities to consider. State Governments are underfunded and lag far behind the private sector when it comes to ease and convenience, let alone cyber security. We all may need to contribute additional tax revenue to fund the transition to an updated voting platform. 

As citizens we are all different in how we interact with the government, and this can also affect voting. People will have physical or learning disabilities, language barriers, or simply may struggle to stand in line at the appointed hour. An updated voting process should allow citizens to vote on several platforms, depending on their specific needs and preferences. 

The process will always begin by registering to vote.Registration is when your eligibility is determined, and your documentation is generated. Once you are registered you will be able to vote. Every state government manages and ensures that only eligible voters are registered. Additionally, in this proposed update, once you are registered you will receive a new and more secure voter registration card that can be used as ID when voting. You will also be asked to set up your online voting account.

Once registered, those that want to go to the polls and vote, like they always have, are encouraged to do it. I believe and take pride in the process of voting. I enjoy going to my polling place. I have a great job that offers time flexibility and live in an area that’s not densely populated and I never wait in long lines. We should maintain our polling locations so that many citizens who are accustomed to voting at the polls can continue to do so. For those that don’t want to vote in person, a new and secure process for voting online will also be available. 

Some will say that the internet, or another electronic platform, may not be secure. However, we use it every day to make commercial transactions. There are just as many people who would steal your money as would steal your vote and I would maintain that if we can conduct business over the Internet, we can also use it to securely help manage the voting process. 

The online process would work like many current websites. First, the State’s dedicated election website would need to be created, administered and secured by the state, or a state authorized and regulated third party. A registered voter would set up their own, unique account which would be secured with passwords and security prompts, just like you would for your bank or financial institution. 

Each state determines their own election timeline for when voting can occur. This ranges widely from state to state with some states offering weeks to early vote and other states only allowing voting on election day. The process for absentee voting also varies from state to state further confusing the voting process. Couldn’t a robust online voting system replace an obsolete absentee voting system?

When it is time in your state to vote, you would be prompted by Internet or text that you are now able to vote. This is triggered by your unique voting account. The state would also provide a link to the voting website where you could key in your password and security information in order to place your vote. The voting website can also tell you how many days you have left to vote. Missing the vote online would be just like missing election day. 

Another advantage of the States’ election website would be better information about the candidates in advance of the election. I am amazed at the lack of information provided about the candidates running for office. This is even more true at the local level, where your vote can be the most important. More recently, the loss of many local newspapers has exacerbated the lack of information about local candidates. A state election website could offer space where candidates could post information, or even links, that would help to inform registered voters about their positions. There would need to be rules to govern the type of information that could be posted, and by whom. But the information would be vetted, using state approved criteria, and we should expect the information to be accurate and not misleading. More information about candidates, provided it was reliable, can significantly help voters intending to make smart decisions about their elected officials. 

Once it is time to vote, the voting card would appear the same online as it would in person. It would include the identical information. Instead of filling in the dot with a pencil or pen, you would simply click the dot. The dot would turn black indicating you had made your voting selection. You would proceed through the card by scrolling down, filling in your votes as you go. At the bottom of the card would be a big button that says, “Review my vote”. This will bring up a summary of your votes. You would be allowed to review these, and to make changes one last time, prior to hitting the “Place my Vote” button. 

Once you,” Place your Vote”, you will be issued a unique voting receipt number. This would be true whether you are voting online or in person, at a polling booth. This number will serve as your receipt and you will be able to print it, if on line, along with your vote as a paper document. This action serves as your record, or paper trail of the vote that you’ve cast. Your voter registration number will only allow for a single unique receipt per voter. Once you have placed your vote, whether online or in person, and receive a receipt, you cannot vote again. 

Once the vote has been tallied, you will be able to return to the voting website to review your actual vote. In fact, you will be able to see all the votes cast in your district, and manually count all the votes if you wanted to do it. I envision something like a spreadsheet that lists all the voting receipt numbers in my district. Next to my unique receipt number, (which keeps my identity secret), it will show the name of the representative I selected, for which office they are elected, and will also show the vote for any ballot initiatives or propositions. This ability to self-audit our votes will encourage greater civic participation, as well as a renewed faith in the integrity of our elections. Each state would have to implement an administrative process for the small percentage of votes that might be disputed. 

The advantages of an updated voting process are clear. Changes to the voting system, that might include online voting, would allow eligible voters much greater access to the electoral process, as well as greater confidence that the vote is being carried out in a fair and secure manner. The concepts that have been laid out simply represent some possible solutions that step us towards better election outcomes. Let us have a forwarding conversation instead of an argument, and we will arrive at the end of the day with a secure and convenient election process that works for everyone who wants to vote.

There will come a time when I will explain to my grandchildren how I used to go and vote in person,at a polling station. How old-fashioned that will seem in several decades, like black-and-white television or leaving empty glass bottles out for the milkman. Is it that hard to envision a time when an eligible voter can place their vote using their cell phone while at Starbucks, or maybe while they are at the airport waiting to catch a flight? That time is now. That’s how easy voting should be, provided that the vote is secure.