Voting Access – “Our Journey Is Not Complete”

Voting access. In his second Inaugural Address, President Obama said “Our Journey is not complete” until long lines to vote are history.

On election night in November President Obama referenced the disgusting status quo of long lines on election day.
“We have to fix that”, the President said.
Today, in his second inaugural address, the President again told the country that he finds our current state of voter access in the United States to be unacceptable. He included exercising our voting rights as part of a list of important issues that still face our country.
“Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote.”
Many of the problems the President spoke of are not easily solved. When it comes to improving voter access, the things that block progress are in some ways easy to defeat. In other ways it will be more difficult.
Technologically, the answer to ending 12 hour lines to vote is easy: Provide citizens with the option to cast their vote online. Online voting can provide our elections with better security, auditability, transparency, and verifiability than our current antiquated paper based election administration does. It can do all this at lower cost. Online elections in the private sector and for political elections in other countries prove this every day.
Without an entrenched resistance to automating much of our election process, solving the problems of waiting in line for hours and low voter turnout is easily done.
Unfortunately, with such resistance firmly in place, with an elections administration industry and culture that firmly rejects the modernization of our voting as threatening to their status quo, completing the journey toward easy voting access in the United States will not be easy. It will require a rejection of fear-based rationale and a rejection of the position that our nation, in the second decade of the 21st century, should accept 12 hour lines- accept dysfunction – as the norm.
When it comes to voter access we must complete the journey, we must Cyber the Vote.

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Why are we waiting IN LINE when we could be voting ONLINE?

Florida early voters waiting for hours in line. Why are we waiting IN LINE when we could be voting ONLINE?

Happy Election Day. Did you vote?

If you are a voter in Florida, perhaps you already voted early. In that case perhaps you waited four hours in line to vote. No doubt anybody in that situation would ask the question, “How long do we have to wait?”

I ask the same question regarding online voting every day: How long do we have to wait? How long do we have to wait till our election officials provide us with modern technology with which to vote?

How long do we have to wait till polling place voter suppression is a thing of the past, along with the need for the polling place itself?

How long do American voters have to wait before we can vote online?

How long before enough is enough when it comes to jumping through hoops in order to exercise our most important right?

Other countries aren’t waiting. Canada isn’t waiting. Last month the city of Edmonton, Alberta conducted a trial online election as part of their plan to implement online voting next year. (By the way, the red jelly bean won). Other cities and municipalities throughout Canada are doing the same.

When will our election administration system move out of the 19th century and into the 21st?

How long do we have to wait?

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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.
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Polls, Polls, and “Pols”

Polls, Polls, and "Pols"

Poll: Place where people go to vote.
Poll: Survey of a sample of people, the results of which are usually extrapolated to indicate the opinions or preferences of a larger population.
“Pol”: Politician, elected official.

What do these homonyms have in common?

The polling place is and always has been the center of our election process. It is supposed to represent the very essense of democracy. When voters turn out, democracy is better served.

However, our history has proven time and again that not all of our citizens turn out for every election. In particular, young voters are almost never proportionately represented in voting results. Seniors “rule” when it comes to voting. One can speculate on the cause of this disparity. One can theorize that younger voters just aren’t as “engaged” as much as senior voters. Perhaps young voters just don’t appreciate the importance of voting as much as senior voters.

I don’t accept any of the above theories as explanation of why senior voters turn out in higher numbers. The reason for this disparity is obvious: retirees have more TIME to devote to going down to a polling place to vote than younger working voters. As a result our “polling place” system of voting has, and always will, result in disproportionate representation among voters.
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The Great Suppressor…

Oh yes, I’m the great suppressor. Who am I? I am the polling place.

There is certainly a lot of talk these days about attempts to suppress the vote. Draconian photo ID laws, measures akin to poll taxes, restrictions to early voting and registration mechanisms. All these things have one thing in common: to deter certain voter demographic groups from voting in large representative numbers.

Most of these examples of vote suppression occur at the time of voting: It is when people show up to vote at the polling place that they are told their ID is unacceptable or that they can’t vote early or can’t register. The suppression happens at the polling place.

Those who enact these measures-state governors and legislatures-might rightly be referred to as “Suppressors”, who facilitate the disenfranchisement of voter rights at the polling place.

But by far the largest suppressor of the vote-The “Great Suppressor”- is the polling place itself.

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How We Vote & How We Vote

Defining “how we vote”:

1) Which candidate we vote for in an election.
2) The type of technology we use to cast our vote.

In an election year, all the attention in the world gets paid to “how we vote”. That is, whether we vote for a Republican candidate or a Democratic one. Or perhaps whether we vote “yes” or “no” on a referendum. What choices we might likely make with our votes this fall are predicted and discussed by every pundit who can make a dime off of the process.

What about HOW we vote, as in the technology we use to cast our vote?
How much does election technology get discussed during an election year or otherwise? Not much. Not much despite the fact that our voting technology is directly related to our election outcomes.

Sadly, the answer too many citizens will give when asked how they voted in a recent election is “I didn’t”.

Today’s media thrives on its own conventional wisdom. Even those in the media who may talk about conventional wisdom still follow it. This is never more true than with regard to our voting patterns.

Here’s one of the most widely accepted false premises repeated ad nauseum daily:

“A small slice of undecided independent voters will decide the election. Most voters have already made up their mind so the outcome will be decided by this small group”.

The above statement is completely wrong. Undecideds don’t decide elections. Independents don’t decide elections.

In the United States, NO-SHOWS decide elections.

Terms like enthusiasm gap and turnout are more relevant to the outcome of all of our elections than undecideds and independents.

With turnouts in elections that represent less than half of the eligible voters in the country, perhaps we should be focusing A LOT more on the means provided to us to vote (How we vote) than the specific choices made by the few who do vote.

As I discussed in a previous post “Polls, Polls, and Pols”, certain segments of our electorate vote in much greater numbers than the rest of the electorate. Unless that changes, many other things will not change.

Just imagine what changes we could see if younger working voters were represented in our elections the way they should be.

Enter Online Voting.

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Online Voting and ways it can get money out of US Politics

There are many promising ways that internet voting can help get money out of politics. They are worth discussing.


In an earlier post, “Follow The Money”, I discuss the hold the television attack ad has on our political system, and why I feel online voting can help change that through greater participation in the process by younger, working voters.

There are also other direct ways that voting on the internet can “get money out”.

Dr. William Kelleher, in his book “Internet Voting Now: Here’s How, Here’s Why – To Kiss Citizens United Goodbye” goes beyond proposing change through participation and offers fresh ideas for how to transform our Presidential Election process in a way that gets money out, with internet voting being integral to that goal.

In May of this year, Mr. Al Dahler wrote a great article focusing on Dr. Kelleher’s book and his proposals. I am delighted to repost that article here for my readers.

Can Internet help counter ‘Big Money?’

Written by Al Dahler – Progressive Perspective

(Editorial Note: Mr. Dahler’s article was first published in The Newsleader of Staunton, Virginia. Direct links to that article are no longer available. I am happy to repost the article in its entirety for the public to read – Rob Weber)

May 30, 2012

—During the Republican primary campaign, what has been missing are serious rational, in-depth analyses about issues which affect people’s lives and our national well-being. How does one become a player in this absurd theater production?

Several players intimated having a “call,” attributing their egocentric ambitions to God. Others assiduously courted the “Big Money” people to boost their candidacy.

One cold January night, a few eccentric Iowa party faithful cheer the opening night. Then, the play hits the road, allowing a few privileged early audiences to pick the star. The majority of the population then has to accept the fait accompli.

It is not surprising that he who placed his faith in “Big Money” trounced those claiming to have a “call.” In real life, Mammon always triumphs. But, does it even matter who receives the Republican star billing?

According to Grover Norquist, all the party needs is a cipher, a stooge, an empty suit who has enough digits to sign off on legislation passed by a Republican Congress beholden to Grover.

The general election, too, is a misnamed drama. Voters do not elect. They simply sustain the choices of the Democratic “Big Money” people or the Republican “Big Money” people. Yet, the political parties and the media continue to spin the fantasy that this hokum is a democratic process.

Does technology, specifically the Internet, offer remedies to transform our nation’s misbegotten election hubbub into a rational and meaningful civic exercise, allowing people, not money, to make the vital choice of who will occupy our country’s most important political office? William J. Kelleher, professor of political science at the University of California, Santa Barbara, believes that the Internet has a real potential to revolutionize America’s presidential election process.

In his book, “Internet Voting Now! Here’s How, Here’s Why — So You Can Kiss Citizens United Goodbye!” he makes a rational and compelling argument of how Internet voting is highly feasible, offering the possibility of informed and thoughtful citizen participation.
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Online Voting – Who’s Rushing?

Opponents have been telling us not to “rush” into online voting for years. Who’s rushing?

PBS recently ran a segment devoted to online voting. It began by telling the compelling story of West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant and her bold commitment to providing access to overseas voters. Unfortunately the piece then made the typical mistake of treating opponents as technical experts, while never interviewing the real technical experts. This is a common media treatment of the issue.

The piece also ended in a very typical way:

MILES O’BRIEN: “No one wants to disenfranchise the people who take the real shots for our country, but a rush to bring our voting online might invite another kind of national security threat”.

Ah yes, the ole “Don’t Rush” trick.

Mr. O’Brien, I have one simple question for you. Who’s rushing? Continue reading

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Voting Access Heroine: Natalie Tennant (West Virginia Secretary of State)

West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant

Opponents of online voting may have chosen the wrong public official to try to scare away with their typical gang-up bullying tactics.

Natalie Tennant is the Secretary of State of West Virginia. As Dr. Kelleher reported on his blog last summer, Ms. Tennant took seriously her duty to provide voting access to overseas military voters in her state, and implemented an extremely successful online voting pilot there.

Ms. Tennant’s husband served overseas, and it was his recounting of the disconnection our service people feel from the process back home that helped drive her to do better in her state.

Dr. Kelleher also chronicled the treatment of Ms. Tennant by a group of well known opponents of online voting at a recent “symposium” discussing online voting in that state. His piece ‘”Cyberbullying” in Connecticut”‘, reveals a discussion panel packed with the same old tired names of academic paper worshippers. Even the audience was clearly packed with detractors. Ms. Tennant was invited to appear to talk about the success in her state, which she did. After that the symposium was dominated by the usual suspects in this debate.

The smear job in Connecticut actually came to my attention when a detractor began “crowing” about it on his blog, even including full video of the symposium.

It appears that this close-knit group of cowardly bullies is not used to running up against public officials with the kind of backbone that Ms. Tennant has.

Last week Secretary of State Tennant published a piece in “Government Technology” supporting the goal of moving our election systems into the 21st century. She calls on these critics, who claim they want a reliable election system, to participate in moving forward rather than using fear to hold us back.

With Ms. Tennant’s permission I am proud to republish her piece in its entirety. I would also like to take the opportunity to thank this brave woman for all she has done, and clearly will continue to do, for the voters of her state and this country.
Making the Case for Online Voting (Opinion)
June 29, 2012 By Natalie E. Tennant

Editor’s note: Natalie Tennant is the Secretary of State of West Virginia. She wrote this column for the July issue of Government Technology magazine.

In 2010, West Virginia initiated a pilot program to provide deployed military and overseas citizens the opportunity to cast their ballot quickly and securely over the Internet. That year, 31 states provided military and overseas voters enhanced ballot access. This included electronic delivery of ballots, online access to ballots, and a variety of electronic ballot return options.
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Online Voting: The Conversation

As in any important public debate, all sides must be heard!

I often talk about the conversation about online voting and how one-sided it can be. When I refer to this “conversation” I am referring to it in a very general sense. No matter what the forum – online blog posts, comments sections of online articles,cable television, local and national radio, or newspapers – I strongly believe that the future of online voting in the United States lies in the framing of “the conversation”.

The reason I started this blog is because when I first began to research the subject I was shocked by how one-sided that conversation was. I started of course by searching the terms “internet voting” and “online voting”. Expecting to find a mixture of results perhaps talking about the current status of the technology, I was instead met with nothing but very “over the top”, loud and often nasty opposition to the very thought of Online Voting. Once I thoroughly researched the subject I realized that the average person was being highly misled by some very avid activist detractors.

The detractors of online voting have completely dominated the conversation for over a decade by successfully controlling the framing of that conversation.

But hopefully times are changing. I was recently asked to participate in a live NPR radio show discussion about online voting.

I found myself debating Avi Rubin, an academic who has made a career out of bashing online voting for a very long time. He had his say, and made his boilerplate remarks. Usually there is nobody to counter these claims. But this time I had the opportunity to make my case. The listeners of the program could judge for themselves regarding the validity of both of our arguments.

This is all we advocates ask regarding online voting. All we ask is an opportunity to be part of a balanced discussion on what could be one of the most important issues of our time.

I would like to thank the producers of the “Midday with Dan Rodricks” show for allowing me to take part in the recent discussion. I look forward to future opportunities to do so.

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