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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Online Voting for Local Elections: Think Small

What can you do to help make Online Voting a reality throughout the United States? Make it a reality in your town first.

Think small.

When we think of a future that includes voting online, we tend to imagine the entire country using the same system at once. In fact, this would almost certainly never be the case.

The best way to approach the goal of voting online is to think as small as possible. Voting in the U.S. is a highly decentralized process. Online Voting would not change that.

In fact, there are almost 8,000 local voting jurisdictions in the U.S. The majority of them are either very small or medium sized districts. Currently NONE of them use online voting for political elections.

Most local elections are about local issues that matter a great deal to the lives of the voters in that community. Ironically, it is these elections that have the poorest voter turnout, and this trend is getting rapidly worse.

The best, and perhaps most important, way to introduce online voting into the election process is to offer it as an option for voting in local elections. Most elections use the same methods for small things like school budgets that they do for larger elections. Usually the process is relatively expensive given the turnout results. Online voting can be introduced as an option in most districts for a reasonable cost.

We should not wait for Congress, the Governors, or the State Secretaries of State to allow us to vote online. While the SOSs do carry great power over the manner in which we vote, they often can be responsive to what they see are the needs of the election officials around their States. If local election officials are willing to look at online voting objectively, you will see more Secretaries of State do the same.

Unfortunately, officials in small and rural voting jurisdictions are often the most hostile to any kind of election modernization. It is a heavy lift to expect them to change overnight.

The key is to think small, to think of the 8 Thousand. There have to be some election officials out there who want to be leaders, who want to be ahead of the curve, who are committed to raising turnout in their districts.

Who knows, perhaps YOUR local jurisdiction could be the first of Eight Thousand. Perhaps you could help make that happen.

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Online Voting: The Conversation Continues

If you are someone who hears about people waiting in line for 12 hours to vote and wonders why we aren’t given the choice of voting online, you aren’t alone.

More and more people are asking themselves why it is that they can’t vote online, while they can do almost everything else in their lives online.

Radio host Brian Joyce is one of those people. I was happy to join him today in a live discussion about online voting for his show on WGOW 102.3 FM Chattanooga, TN.

Thanks to Brian for focusing on a topic that is more important than many realize.

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Analog Voting in a Digital World – Paper ballots cause long lines at the polls

The chart above tells it all. Paper ballots cause long lines.

CHECK OUT my column on IVN how paper ballot voting is causing chaos in many States.


Do we really need to spend all day in line to vote? Should we?
Should we have to wait in line at all?

Why do we wonder why so many people don’t vote? Small wonder turnout in the United States is so disturbingly low.

We must get out of the dark ages of voting technology and election dysfunction.
We must Cyber The Vote!

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Voting Technology in the U.S. : The Lost Decade

The irony.

At the very end of the 20th century, the United States was poised to revolutionize voting forever. After centuries of voting only at the polling place and often on insecure and inadequate paper ballot systems, the Internet was about to change all that.
The notion of voting online, and all the benefits that it would bring, was occurring to more than a few election officials and developers of online technology. After all, everything else in our lives was rapidly going digital and paperless. Voting would be no different.

Several states began to trial online voting pilots, particularly for absentee voting. Arizona offered online voting in 1999. That’s right, thirteen years ago online voting already existed.

DRE (Direct Recording Electronic) terminals at the polling place were phasing out antiquated punch card and optical scan systems throughout the country. While electronic voting at the polling place was better than voting on paper, online voting held the most promise.

One online voting system was developed by the Defense Department (DOD) to be used by overseas military voters. Everyone understood that the first place online voting could have an impact was with these voters. Paper absentee ballots are inadequate enough for domestic voters. For military personnel stationed around the world, going through the process of mailing paper ballots is often daunting enough to drive them to not vote.

The first DOD pilot project was called VOI (Vote Over the Internet) and it was launched in 2000. It was so successful that the DOD later launched SERVE (Secure Electronic Registration and Voting Experiment) in 2004. In all technical trials, SERVE performed flawlessly as well.

Yes, at the dawn of the new millenium the future of voting in America was clearly going to be online. It looked like a bright future.

Then came Bush v. Gore and the election of 2000.

We know what happened. Archaic is too kind of a word to describe the punch card ballots with the famous “hanging chads”. The same is true for the butterfly paper ballots used in Palm Beach County, Florida. These ballots caused holocaust survivers to vote for Pat Buchanan for President instead of Al Gore. These confusing pieces of paper handed the election to George Bush.

Suddenly the subject of voting technology, always a very wonkish one which drew no public interest for generations, was all the rage. Congress acted and passed HAVA (Help America Vote Act). Election infrastructure had to be modernized and everyone knew what that meant. Digital voting was in. Paper was out.

Continue reading

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Happy “Paper Trails” to You: The Failures and Fallacies of Paper Ballot Voting

Thomas Edison’s very first patent, granted in 1869, was for an electronic vote recorder. Why are we still voting on paper ballots in the 21st century?

In an earlier post entitled “Online Voting vs. Paper: Papier est Passe” , I stated what is obvious to most of us: We live in a virtually paperless society. Almost every basic transactional function in our lives is done online. One glaring exception is the way in which we vote in the United States.

Not only do most of us vote on antiquated paper ballot systems while we do everything else online, the election administration and “election integrity” culture in the United States has no problem with this disparity. In fact, they almost universally insist that the only “trustworthy” way for us to vote is and ALWAYS WILL BE on paper. But here’s the thing: this “paper worship” on the part of those who run and observe our elections is both counterfactual and extremely self-serving on their part.

Opponents of online voting apply completely different standards of necessary “trustworthiness” between digital voting systems and paper ones. They fundamentally oppose online voting on the grounds that it theoretically could be compromised in a way that threatens the credibility of any election result. The key word here is “theoretically”.

Since online voting is working so well in the private sector and in other countries for actual political elections, opponents tend to rely on the world of “what ifs?” to justify their stance against remote voting.

As Dr. Bill Kelleher points out in “How NIST Has Misled Congress and the American People about Internet Voting Insecurity; or, Internet Voting in the USA: History and Prospects” , his just-released brilliant treatment of this subject from a political science perspective, opponents of online voting use “unfalsifiable” arguments to define the standards which digital voting systems must live up to in order to be trustworthy. Of course, such standards are impossible to meet so they claim online voting can never be safe. Period.

Meanwhile, these critics of digital voting apply no such standards regarding the outcome of elections using paper ballots in order to define those tallies as “credible”. On the contrary, they insist that paper ballot voting be used in all circumstances despite the well known horrible track record paper has. Mention Bush V. Gore, butterfly ballots, hanging chads or long lines to these folks and their response is “Oh well, no systems are perfect”. Highly flawed voting systems are fine with them as long as they use paper.

The Verified Voting Foundation, a leading moneymaking propaganda mill for paper voting, recently conducted a “study” of the 50 states with regard to their voting systems and graded each state. The VVF was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars (Perhaps more. One grant alone from the MacArthur Foundation was for $300,000) to look up each state and find out what kind of voting systems they use. They organized their results into “grades”, published and publicized the report. Nice gig if you can get it, I suppose.

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E-File, but no E-Vote?

Happy Tax day, everyone. If you are one of millions who now E-File (Electronically file) your tax returns, I ask you to pause for a moment and think about what you have just done.

You transmitted all of your financial, personal, and tax information over the internet, safely and securely. I ask you a simple question? Did you give a second thought to it? I doubt it. Nor should you have.

In one of my first posts almost three years ago, “Imagine a world…”, I tried to point out how rapidly our world has changed from just a decade ago. We all remember how many important tasks in our lives we now do online, that only recently we took for granted must be done on paper.

Let’s face it, folks. E-Filing is another very strong example of the fact that security and privacy concerns over digital activities can be overcome to allow us to do amazing things online, without thinking twice about it.

Online voting is no different in this respect.

Remember, when you hear the vocal detractors (the self-declared experts) tell you that voting is different than banking, or Tax filing, or commerce, or even Air Traffic Control, that they are wrong when it comes to security, auditability, recountability, or privacy. Online voting is not “different”.

Voting IS very different from all these things in one very important respect. Voting is our most important RIGHT, from which all our other rights come. We should never allow ourselves to be denied the most contemporary technology to express that right.

If we “cyber the tax”, surely we can Cyber The Vote.

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