Utah Votes Online 2016: A Fair Review

Voter turnout increased dramatically when Utah voters voted online.

Voter turnout increased dramatically when Utah voters voted online.

As voters around the country begin to vote (early voting has begun in some places), and look toward voting this November, it is worth remembering that 2016 saw a major example of better ways to make it possible for greater participation in democracy in America. The article below was originally published March 28, 2016:

 

As I reported the day after the March 22nd GOP Caucus online vote, what little attention the media paid to this historic election was generally skewed, praising five hour lines at the polls as an example of democracy at work, while characterizing any reported inconvenience with the online vote (justified or not) as anything from technical “hiccups” to “a plague of registration problems”.

Certainly the vote in Utah was not without some issues, mostly related to communication with the public. Some of these issues may have been avoidable. A fair review of the Utah vote should not neglect noting mistakes made.

At the same time, the technical success of this online election is undeniable. None of the security issues predicted by naysayers of online voting came true in Utah. A fair review of the Utah vote should not neglect noting how tremendously successful the election was in many important respects.

As Amber Phillips correctly points out, in her recent terrific Washington Post interview with Joe Mohen, Utah wasn’t the first time Americans voted online. There was a time, over a decade ago, when U.S. election systems were on a track to modernize. Had that trend continued, we would probably all be voting online by now.

Unfortunately, due to very successful resistance to election automation, modernization stagnated in the mid 2000s. This was a trend that only worsened since. It has been the period I refer to as “The Lost Decade”.

Utah is therefor extremely historic and important. It hopefully will usher in a new era for all American voters. It deserves a fair review.

In 2010 a testing trial of an online vote in Washington DC, conducted on an amateurish platform, was easily compromised when challenged. As a result the actual online election did not take place. To this day that one poorly run project has been used to negatively define all online voting platforms.

Now we have Utah 2016, an actual election conducted by a large online voting service provider with an international track record of success.  It deserves at least as much attention as DC 2010. It deserves a fair review.

Below is a fair review of the Online election conducted Statewide by the Utah GOP, on March 22nd, 2016:

In the case of an online election, a primary decision made by election administrators is which online voting service provider to use. There are several large companies, and numerous smaller ones. The Utah GOP made the right choice in using one of the larger companies, Smartmatic, to conduct the election in Utah. Given how important it is that such an historic election go smoothly, choosing a small company could have been disastrous for the future of online voting in America.

The GOP could have also chosen another company with a great track record, such as Everyone Counts (located in San Diego), or Scytl (The largest online voting service provider in the world). As long as they worked with a company that had a lot of experience running online elections and serving large numbers of voters, a successful outcome was likely.

Phone Help Lines were set up to assist voters who had problems or questions regarding the online election. It was these phone lines that received a great deal of traffic on election night in Utah. Many people called in claiming they were unable to vote online. In the end, it turned out that 90% of these callers had failed to register. In other words, phone lines were NOT jammed with eligible voters having technical difficulties trying to vote online. In fact, the overwhelming majority of eligible voters had a very positive voting experience.

How about voter turnout? Did participation numbers increase in Utah? They sure did. More people voted just online, than participated in the entire previous Presidential caucus.

What grade does Utah receive with regards to online turnout? A+.

At the same time, from the perspective of security, the election in Utah ran flawlessly. This result was no surprise to anyone familiar with real online elections. Online election results were reliable, exact, and produced very quickly. Things you rarely get from paper ballot, polling place election results.

A week before the election, I predicted the 2016 Utah GOP online caucus to be a “bad day for the naysayers”. It proved to be just that. Opponents of digital voting say it is all about security. They have predicted disaster, should we attempt any elections online, for twenty years.

What security and reliability grade does Utah 2016 Online deserve? A+

The FACTS about the online vote in Utah include the following, based on a survey of those who participated:

•94% of respondents described the online voting experience as good.
•97% would consider voting online in future elections.
•82% wanted to see online voting implemented nationwide.

FACT: Utah was a stunning success.

It was a very bad day for the naysayers.

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Why we can’t vote online: It’s NOT technical

Why?

Perhaps the most common title of an article about online voting is “Why can’t we vote online?”, a seemingly rationale question.

Indeed, it is a very important question. Unfortunately, most of such treatment then goes on to quote opponents of digital voting, who claim that there are technical barriers to secure, reliable online voting for U.S. elections.
Indeed, there have been and will continue to be barriers to widespread adoption of online voting in America. No, NONE of those barriers are technical. None.

My previous post, “Why can’t we vote online?: It’s not political” mentions that, second to claims of technical barriers, a growing misconception about our slow adoption of digital voting is that it is politically motivated.
Second to claims of technical barriers. False claims of security deficiencies by academic naysayers, along with an election administration and integrity culture that supports naysayers, will always be the paramount reason for resistance to modernization.

Luckily, time is not on the side of the naysayers. Gradually, we ARE adopting online voting, a recent example being the online vote in Utah in March of 2016. There are several providers who offer election services that include secure, cutting edge online systems, along with a track record of using them for real elections. These include high profile election systems companies like “Smartmatic“, “Everyone Counts“, and “Scytl“. Numerous municipalities and even countries around the world utilize online voting today. There has never been an online election, conducted by any of these companies, which has been technically compromised.

The question “Why can’t WE vote online?” will soon be a relic of the past.  The question “If others can vote online, why can’t I?” will soon be the norm.

Perhaps, very soon, the only question asked will be “Was there really ever a time we all couldn’t vote online?”.

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Why can’t we vote online? It’s NOT political.

Online Voting can make long lines and low turnout obsolete.

Online Voting can make long lines, and low turnout, obsolete.

Believe it or not, sometimes it’s not political.

While the greatest misconception regarding online voting is that we still don’t use it for elections in the U.S. because of technological barriers (a complete falsehood), another rapidly growing misconception is the suspicion that politics has denied us access to this technology. This is simply not true.

It is quite understandable to assume that pushback against election modernization is politically motivated. After all, we live in a time when voter I.D. is being used to suppress the vote. Several GOP Secretaries of State around the country have cut back on early voting, and closed polling places, in order to suppress turnout. Voter suppression in general is a very real, politically motivated thing today.

Archaic voting infrastructure itself is also a form of suppression. I made this point several years ago in my post, “The Great Suppressor”, highlighting how the inconvenience of the polling place makes it the most impactful suppressor of voter turnout. But unlike the other notable vote suppressors, the highly outdated state of our voting technology is not perpetuated by political parties seeking to lower turnout for the other side.

Our inability to modernize has been due to a variety of causes, led by an election administration and integrity culture that is resisting automation. Cheered on by this community, a small academic group of naysayers plays on the fears of the public regarding online hackers. American media pays little attention to the issue of modernization. When they do, they usually cater their treatment to the same public fears as the academic naysayers.

The high-tech companies, which provide modern online voting services, rarely enter public discussion, and just as rarely are contacted by reporters so that they can explain their industry. These companies need to form an association, which can become an easily identifiable entity for public relations about their industry.

Perhaps most importantly, both the media and the public have a warped view about voting convenience. We see long lines as an expression of patriotism. They aren’t. They are a sign of dysfunction. What we almost never see are all the voters who walk away from those lines and don’t vote. In 2012 in Florida, an estimated 200,000 voters intended to vote, but simply could not wait in line for up to 12 hours to do so.

In a country with such low average voter turnout rates, Americans should be embracing convenience, not praising inconvenience.

All of the above factors answer the question “Why don’t we vote online?”. None of them are politically induced in a traditional sense.

It might stand to reason that the GOP wouldn’t want voting to be more convenient for Democratic voters. But what about their own voters? In March the Utah GOP offered online voting as an option for their 2016 Presidential Caucus.

The Utah vote was historic, and the fact that it was a GOP election helps demonstrate that neither resistance to, or embrace of, modernization need be politically motivated.

Once voters experience online voting on a small scale for local voting or caucuses/primaries, they will demand the same ability for general elections.

Election dysfunction may not be politically caused, but it is very real nonetheless.

We must abandon our outdated election culture. We must end dysfunction.

We must Cyber The Vote.

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Media treatment of Online Voting: Double-Standard is the standard

Arizona voters wait two hours

Double standard is the standard when it comes to media treatment of online voting.

Election night coverage of primary elections and caucuses on March 22nd was a perfect example. Reports of two hour lines to vote in Arizona, and long delays in Utah when polling places ran out of ballots, were portrayed as “good things” by reporters, because they represented enthusiasm.

Reports of any inconvenience whatsoever in Utah’s GOP first ever online voting option were characterized as chaos, a nightmare, and a plague.

Jacob Soboroff (@jacobsoboroff) reported on the online vote on MSNBC, and later tweeted about what he described on TV as a situation “plagued with registration problems” in Utah. He neglected to mention that most of the people calling in to help lines, and complaining that they couldn’t vote online, had failed to register by the March 18th deadline, and then tried to go online and vote anyway.

Here’s a news flash, Jacob: If someone can’t vote because they didn’t register, that isn’t a technical issue. When voters show up at the polling place and can’t vote because they didn’t register, do you report that as a plague of registration problems?

Even worse, Jacob’s report then went on to talk about security “concerns”, by parroting the rhetoric of anti online voting activists, referring to them as “security experts”. He presented their opinions about the security of the system as fact. He offered no quotes from the online voting service provider used. Instead he made only a vague reference to Estonia. He didn’t even know the name of the company.

Jacob, the name of the service provider is Smartmatic, a company that provides secure online voting around the world. They aren’t the only company doing this. Companies like Everyone Counts and Scytl (the largest online voting service provider in the world) manage online elections every day with none of the security nightmares predicted by your “experts”. Next time you choose to cover this subject, you might want to consider actually interviewing them, instead of relying solely on avid opponents for your “facts”.

While Jacob spoke, the ticker on the bottom of the screen kept flashing “Some voters wait in two hour lines in Arizona”. No trouble, chaos, or nightmares for those voters, I suppose.

Meanwhile, despite some real and valid issues with the online vote in Utah, NONE of them were related to security problems. NONE of the scary outcomes predicted by Jacob’s “experts” came to pass regarding the tally of the vote.
In fact, they never do.

Not that you would know any of the real facts about online voting, after watching coverage on March 22nd.

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Online Voting NEWS: Utah first state to offer Online Voting on March 22nd

MTP Daily Utah Online Voting

It has finally begun. Next week, the Utah Republican party will be conducting a Presidential election caucus that includes an option to vote online. This is big news.

This is not a good day for the naysayers. While they stamp their feet and tell us to be afraid of election modernization, the rest of the world is passing them by.

And stamp their feet they are. It comes as no surprise that the most prominent opponents of digital voting are doing their best to spread fear over this development. Unfortunately, the media tends to always turn to the naysayers on the rare occasion when they pay any attention to this subject.
Still, make no mistake about it, this is only the beginning. Both parties in many other states will be watching this Utah election. To say this trend could spread like wildfire is no exaggeration.

It is long past time we leave antiquated voting methods behind us.

The time to Cyber The Vote has arrived.

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Online Voting: Turn IN the Vote

Abe Cybers The Vote 1 Twitter 5

Of all the election-related terms that would be rendered anachronistic by online voting, perhaps the most significant one might be the term “voter turnout”.

I have really grown to hate the significance of voter turnout.

Our entire election process, and our entire political process, is greatly determined by voter turnout. Elections are decided more by how many registered voters bother to show up in a given elections, than they are by the choices people make when they do vote.

I have said it before, how we vote (the type of voting systems we use) determines the outcome of our elections more than how we vote (the choices made by those who turnout).

One of the most common misconceptions about American elections is that they are often decided by the Independent voter. It is assumed that, given a binary choice between Republican and Democrat, each side will have a “base” of voters who will reliably vote a certain way. If 45% of voters cast a vote for the Dem, and another 45% vote for the GOP candidate, the election will not be decided by these base voters. It will be decided by those who are unaffiliated, who make unpredictable choices.

Yet in the overwhelming majority of elections, the outcome is not decided by unaffiliated voters. Elections are decided by who participates. Or more accurately, they are decided by who DOESN’T particpate.

Simply put, American elections are decided by “no shows”.

Turnout must be a very literal thing in American elections. If people don’t LITERALLY get up, get out, and go to a polling place to vote, their vote does not count. This of course extends all the way to every barrier that gets in a voter’s way. If a voter can not spend hours waiting on a line to vote, he or she is considered to not have turned out.

Voting should be a choice that citizens “turn in”. When a student submits a paper to a teacher, that paper is turned in. Today many students are getting their degrees online. When they turn in their papers, they are doing it electronically. The same thing is true with online voting. When you vote online, you “turn in” your preference. It is clearly recorded and your voice is heard.

We must do away with barriers to voting. We must do away with democracy decided by those who have the most time to turn out. We must see any voting system that makes voting so inconvenient, in an age where everything else we do is done online, as a barrier to democracy.

We must TURN IN the vote with Online Voting.

We must Cyber the vote.

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Turnout vs. Tally: The Big Myth

How empty was your polling place this year?

We advocates for online voting believe it can significantly increase voter participation in the United States, especially with younger working voters. Opponents of digital voting are skeptical that we can “trust” it to produce accurate and reliable election results. Coincidentally (or not), the same opponents are usually skeptical that online voting will increase turnout anyway.

Turnout vs. Tally. There is a deeply held belief that digital voting, while it may have some advantages, is not something we should trust our elections to. Despite the fact that we live in a world that now trusts digital online activity for everything else we do, voting is considered “too important”.

Meanwhile, it is clear that traditional voting methods have done nothing to help increase participation. In fact, they usually suppress participation. A long line at a polling place and a paper ballot have never increased turnout by a single voter.

We suffer from tremendously low average turnout rates in the United States. Yet, when you ask most opponents of digital voting if we should at least take a chance that digital voting will increase turnout, they universally say “No”.

“What good is higher turnout if you can’t trust the tally?” is a common refrain from online voting opponents. This question illustrates a false representation that higher turnout and reliable elections are mutually exclusive. They most certainly are not.

Turnout vs. Tally is a false choice. We can have elections that are more convenient, more inclusive, less restrictive and also have election results that we can trust.

In fact, online elections produce much more reliable results than paper ballot based ones. When you consider the long history of issues that accompany antiquated voting methods, the very presumption that we shouldn’t modernize our elections because then we won’t be able to trust the tallies is odd.

In a previous post, “The Lost Decade“, I discuss the issues that led to “Bush v. Gore” in 2000, a constitutional crises created by paper ballot confusion, and what has happened with our election infrastructure during the following years.
Even today, the proliferation of optical scan voting and hand recounting of paper ballots produces unreliable and disputed election results across the country. It often takes days, weeks and even months to produce these unreliable results. All at great cost to the taxpayer.

Meanwhile, online voting systems produce flawless election results. Election returns can be discerned in minutes rather than months, at lower cost to the taxpayer. Elections tallied by digital voting methods rarely result in legal disputes.

We must destroy this myth of turnout vs. tally. We must demand elections that can be well-represented. We must demand elections that are convenient and inclusive, as well as reliable.

We must Cyber The Vote.

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Imagine a World – Part 2: Online Voting Eliminates Low Turnout

Imagine a world that includes high voter turnout

Cyber The Vote and imagine a world.

A very early post on this blog,”Imagine a World“, described a world of yesterday, when every transactional aspect of our lives was kept track of on paper. It detailed a world of only 20 years ago, when doing any transaction “remotely” usually meant doing it by mail. (For those too young to remember, we used to refer to snail mail as just mail). The world has changed in so many ways, except for the fact that we still vote on paper, and mostly in person. Lately, many have had to wait many hours in line in order to do so.

Sadly, another way that the world has not changed is that low voter turnout, especially among younger voters, is still with us. I do not believe that low turnout and paper ballots have no corrolation. Turnout is suppressed by paper ballots. Turnout will also never be high enough without remote voting.

Imagine a world of high voter turnout. Imagine how different the world could be.

In a future that is rid of chronic low voter participation, many of the things that we decry today as cancers on our democracy would be virtually eliminated.

Today’s world of unlimited outside spending on elections, our “Citizens United” status quo, has money controlling our democracy. Money in elections is currently a red hot political science topic. There are movements to change the U.S. Constitution in order to “get money out” of politics.

The concern over the corrosive effect that big donor money has on politics is understandable, as is all the discussion over it. What is rarely discussed is what the money is spent ON. One of the reasons for this is that the answer is stipulated by everyone: the money is overwhelmingly spent on television advertising.

Negative TV ads are extremely effective at affecting the outcomes of elections. It is almost a given that, if “one side” in an election spends significantly more money on TV than the other, the outcome of any election is all but determined.

Imagine a world where TV attack ads have no determining effect on American elections. Imagine a world where special interests stop spending money on TV ads. When that happens, only our imagininations can limit how much our world will change.

Our democracy hasn’t disappeared. It is just waiting for us to embrace it. There is nothing wrong with our political system that full voter participation can’t fix.

The only way to neutralize the power of the attack ad, and neuter those who pay for them, is to raise turnout in general and among younger voters specifically.

Young voters don’t watch television in general the way older voters do. Specifically, 30 second political attack ads are fairly ineffective on them.

The only way we will be able to significantly increase voter participation among young voters is with online voting. If we can imagine a world with widespread use of online voting, we can imagine a whole new world.

Once we eliminate chronic low turnout, we can eliminate so many other things. Just imagine a world without so many of the seemingly unsolvable challenges it faces. Yes, imagine no war, poverty, hunger, or the significant challenges of pollution and climate change.

Once we let go of that last vestige of our unconnected past – the paper ballot – we can imagine a future with unlimited hope.

Can it be that simple? Yes, it is that simple.

Cyber The Vote and imagine a world.

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Online Voting opponents – Beware the Againsters Part 2: Skeptical of the Skeptics

It is long past time to start doubting the doubters

Doubt the doubters. Deny the deniers.

Several years ago I first published my post “Beware the Againsters”. The post was all about pointing out that many skeptics of online voting, who like to appear as concerned scientists or concerned election integrity advocates, are often really career skeptics.

Identifying who some of these people are is important. Identifying what their tried-and true traditional strategies are, in their jobs as online voting opponents, is also important.

As a researcher of this topic, I discovered early on (after reading Bill Kelleher’s book “Internet Voting Now“), that some of the tactics used today by opponents of online voting were first tried over a decade ago, when a group of so called concerned scientists were responsible for the dismantling of an online voting system developed for the U.S. Military for overseas troops and vets.

This group successfully derailed SERVE (Secure Entry Remote Voting Experiment) by achieving two things: They established themselves as independent academic experts of internet voting security. They achieved this regard from the media and election integrity advocates, despite their limited experience with this science.

I have written about some of these people myself, in posts like “Lost Decade”, where I chronicle their activities over the last ten years.

Still, much like with skeptics of climate change, despite usually not having reputable science credentials, career online voting skeptics exist.

Secondly, this group was able to play on the public’s fears of the Internet ten years ago, which is still their prime strategy today.

Alas, identifying these people is not usually enough to stop them. Neither is only identifying their strategies.

If we want to stop the career online voting deniers from poisoning public opinion and public policy regarding the use of online voting, we must kill their undeserved reputations as independent scholars and scientists.

These people are not scholars. They are simply folks with a simple agenda -“No online voting ever”, and their career activities are standing in the way of democracy in the United States.

One of the ways online voting deniers maintain a needed air of independence is to produce “feasibility studies” of online voting, where they use as much technical jargon as they can to explain why online voting will not be feasible in the near future.

Ironically of course, the very use of the term “feasible” is very unscientific, given that online voting is not a hypothetical concept.
Online voting is already here, in use around the world. People vote TODAY on highly sophisticated secure online voting systems.

In FACT, most of the secure online voting systems in use for real elections internationally today are as secure as the MOST secure things we do online, such as online banking, secure ecommerce, and IRS electronic tax filing.

Regardless, this gang currently is presenting one of their feasibility studies and accompanying reports to election officials and integrity advocates nationwide.

This new report is basically the SERVE report of ten years ago with a face lift. It is also produced by the same people.

NOW is the time to call out these people for what they are. Every publicly available word of this study must be analyzed for scientific value.

At a recent gathering of election officials, this report was called out. I have been told that officials are becoming skeptical of the genuineness of this report as independent analysis.

A bias point of view is being presented as fact. But it doesn’t matter how it is presented, as long as the source of the presentation is being considered.

In short, people are beginning to consider the source. They are becoming skeptical of the skeptics.

As soon as the public and public officials become skeptical enough of the skeptics, everything is going to rapidly change with regard to the availability of online voting for our elections.

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Online Voting AT the polling place?

Let’s think outside the ballot box, all the way to the cloud.

When we consider Online Voting, we correctly envision using it as a convenience tool. Hopefully, in the near future we will be able to excercise our voting rights in the United States, with a simple “swipe” on our phones, and from anywhere in the world. However, we rarely think about the advantages of using Online Voting today at the polling place itself.

There would be many advantages of polling place Online Voting. The first would be cost. Taxpayers don’t usually give much thought to how much of their money goes toward adminstering elections in their districts. Yet, like any other tax expenditure, spending on elections should be scrutinized. Today we spend a lot of money on voting and ballot tabulation machines for our elections, and we frankly don’t get much in return.

Local election officials have to make major financial decisions over which machines to buy, only to often regret and be stuck with the machines they choose later on. By the time the poll workers and the voters get used to those machines, they are deemed outdated, and new expensive machines are needed.

Districts also often spend large amounts of money on hand recounts of optically scanned ballots, for even the smallest of election tallies. That money is literally wasted, as it goes toward neither upkeep of machines nor new equipment.

In New York State, where every district voted on lever voting machines for decades, taxpayers also had to devote little expense to hardware for those decades. Every county in the State has recently had to switch to optical scan ballot machines, which have proven to be a nightmare. But optical scan paper ballot systems are very expensive, and these counties are stuck with them for awhile.

A modern polling place, which consists of a sufficient number of computers for voters, would represent a much less expensive polling place to operate than the traditional one. Computers cost exponentially less than voting machines, and the polling place in the cloud would always be up to date.

Another advantage of polling place Online Voting would be noticably better access for the voter. A polling place with a large number of computer voting stations would provide a much faster and more voter-friendly experience. Multiple languages, special needs access, and different types of devices could all be easily provided. Compare this setting to today’s polling place of a handful of machines and long lines.

No small advantage of an online polling place would be the accuracy, efficiency and speed of the vote tally and result reporting. It would be instantaneous the moment the polls closed.
No waiting for days, weeks, or months for election results. A nanosecond or two would often suffice.

Perhaps most importantly, a cloud based polling place will familiarize the voter with online voting in general. The voters who are comfortable voting on a computer at the polls will soon want to bring the polls with them wherever they go.

Even after we begin to have online voting for our political elections from anywhere, we will still have polling place voting for awhile. The best polling place will be the connected one.

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