Online Voting vs. Paper – Papier est Passe

(Editorial Note: This post from November 2011 has been this blog’s most popular. Given this year’s attention on the broken election administration system in the U.S., I am reprinting it below without edit)

I have been meaning to post a comment regarding some of the words I hope will become obsolete in coming years: “Polling place”, “turnout”, “voter suppression” and “enthusiasm gap” to name a few.

I want to see all of these words become obsolete because I envision a time when online voting brings us not simply convenience, but unprecedented voter participation.

But the word that most needs to become obsolete with regard to our elections happens to be the thing that has rapidly become literally obsolete in the rest of our lives.

That thing is paper.

We were told that we would become a paperless society and I’m not sure many of us believed it would really happen.

But the Internet, and more importantly Broadband high speed internet access, has made it happen more rapidly than we ever could have imagined.

Thanks to the lighting-fast proliferation of the Internet, broadband, and web-enabled smartphones in the last 10 years, we are now the paperless society we imagined. This is true in every way, with a few minor exceptions and a single GLARING one.

You guessed it, the exception is how we vote and, perhaps more importantly, what “election integrity advocates” see as the only possible way for our otherwise paperless world to approach election technology.

“And the people bowed and prayed, to the “paper” god they made.”

It is ASTONISHING to see, in my recent conversations with many such againsters, how utterly wedded they are to the almighty pulp and ink. Is there anything more out of touch in a paperless world than insisting that only paper is acceptable, or WILL EVER BE acceptable, as a way of voting?

Traditional newspapers are dying. Many, if not most, news sources today don’t even have a paper version (The Huffington Post, for example).

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I no longer receive my cancelled checks back from my bank. I only receive “images” on the statement, which I receive digitally. Of course, I don’t write many checks any longer because most of my bills are paid online.

When I first started working for a major IT firm 12 years ago, reams of paper were constantly kept in stock to fill the many printers in the office. Those working from home had a monthly allowance for paper. Today, most of those office printers are gone, along with the offices themselves. There are no more monthly allowances for paper, since paper is not considered necessary in any way for anybody’s jobs. ALL data is kept on “soft copies”.

Do you recognize what the ladies are holding in the photo above? That’s right, Tickertape.

Tickertape goes back to the days of telegraph and stock ticker machines. It was state of the art 100 years ago. Investers all over the country were able to keep track of stock information in “real time”.

Tickertape was thrown out of windows for parades because there was so much of it.
Today, when they have “tickertape” parades, regular confetti is thrown out of the windows. Why? Because tickertape doesn’t exist anymore. Stock “tickers” are now digital.

No stock information is kept track of on paper anymore. Banking information is not kept track of on paper. Email is replacing “snail mail”.

Photos are no longer printed. Architects no longer draw traditional “blue prints”. Designers and artists now use tablets instead of pencil or charcoal on paper.

One of the most important aspects of modernizing our health care system is digitizing our medical records. Bye-bye paper “charts”.

Over a TRILLION dollars a day in currency is traded, and NOT A PENNY of it is accounted for on paper.

Paper is obsolete. Obsolete everywhere except in the world of American voting and, more importantly, the world that exists in the minds of some of our largest “election integrity” organizations.

We keep track of everything we do digitally. Every tiny bit of information we produce remains in existence, residing on redundent server systems. In the information age all information is available for instant recall, instant verification, or instant recount.

What is this obsession with paper all about? It defies logic, yet is accepted as a reasonable approach to voting.

When it comes to the againsters and their attacks on online voting, their dogmatic reliance on paper always seems to ignore the most obvious flaw in their conclusions.

It is the big “AS IF” factor.

They vilify online voting and protect the archaic paper systems AS IF paper ballots are so reliably recountable or verifiable. History has shown us time and again that they are not. Any voting systems that rely on paper in any way are notoriously unreliable.

They worship paper AS IF information on paper is somehow so “safe”. AS IF history isn’t full of examples of paper ballots coming up missing or stolen, or showing up in somebody’s trunk or garage a month after an election.The againsters vilify online voting AS IF we haven’t seen as a nation how completely unreliable, unverifiable, and unrecountable paper ballots can be.

They say all this AS IF we don’t all remember this:

The digital revolution has the ability to revolutionize our entire political system by revolutionizing our voting system. Online voting will make the entire “polling place” concept as extinct as tickertape.

Yet none of this will happen if we don’t let our antiquated voting system evolve along with the rest of our completely paperless world.

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5 Responses to Online Voting vs. Paper – Papier est Passe

  1. Right now we already have totally insecure computerized voting machines that can be centrally rigged without detection, as well as hacked. You are promoting Internet voting which also could be centrally rigged and hacked. No one has ever presented a scenario where every voter can be personally certain the tally was not rigged or hacked. How is your proposal different?

  2. Norman Drew says:

    I agree with Victoria, first of all is it really that tough for the lazy American people to go to the polls and vote, it is not asking too much of Americans (who typically want the easy way out on everything) to get out and vote. Everyone has the same opportunity to vote all they have to do is DO IT. I work in security with computers, and trust me I can hack any of those that the average person uses. I don’t care what other countries are doing because the rest of the world doesn’t care either, that said the world watches what happens in America because we affect them. It would be to their advantage to make sure the outcome of an election favors what they want. So there would be more reason to hack into our home computers and change things. There are currently bot networks all over doing what hackers do. INFECT OTHER COMPUTERS and gather personal info.

  3. Norman Drew says:

    Rob W you state that we have an antiquated system, but offer no real alternatives providing the security that would be needed. There is no system in existence that cannot be compromised. If an organization is intent on getting in they will. The current Russian hactivists are the best in the world at this and it goes on along with China at attempting to hack into our defense facilities or technology companies. You think for one minute they would not devote their attention to us if we went with online voting??????? If you live in a bubble and think they wouldn’t bother you or us. GET REAL.

  4. Christopher W. Harn says:

    I would be for 1 central server. Having servers talk to servers is where we get in trouble. ask the horse racing industry.

    I’m available to discuss further, but wont be checking this page.

  5. Pour commencer merci pour ces remarques, en même temps lucides et posées. Cela dit, 2 ou 3 détails auraient supporté plus de développement, en particulier dans la fin du billet. Simplement une façon de dire que je suis impatient de découvrir la suite Mon blog mutuelle

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