Ways in which technology is transforming the electoral process generate both interest and concern among voters, campaign managers, and political scientists alike. Digital technology is playing a critical role this election cycle – it’s the backbone of campaign advertising, polling, communication between candidates and their supporters, voter database management, and even ballot-casting. While some see great potential in the improvements that new technologies could bring into the electoral process, others fear that there may be unforeseen risks involved.*
In our earlier 2016 Campaigns Go Digital “Technology Trends” post, we explored the various ways candidates use technology to reach voters. This time, the focus is on technologies that have an impact on the administration of elections, from voting machines and e-voting to polling and online voter registration.
America’s Voting Technology Crisis – The Atlantic
With the 2016 campaign underway, the issue of aging voting machines has come under the spotlight. Just like no one expects a laptop to last a decade, voting machines, too, have an expiration date. It turns out that most of the equipment used nationwide today was designed and engineered back in the 1990s, and naturally, these machines are dangerously close to the end of their lifespans. The older the technology, the higher the risk of it malfunctioning. Unless the issue of aging voting machines is addressed and proper precautions are taken, there is a high chance that Election Day will be less about who won or lost, and more about how the voting system failed.
So many of our daily tasks are now done online – we have our online calendars, banking accounts, shopping carts, etc. Naturally, people wonder why voting can’t be done online, too. However, security experts say the technology is nowhere near secure enough for something as crucial as the democratic process to migrate online. The stakes are simply too high, and recent cases of cybersecurity breaches prove that with the current state of technology, voting over the Internet would be a very bad idea.
Advocates for online voting claim that being able to use your smartphone to cast your ballot would increase voter turnout. However, studies performed in other countries show that Internet voting has a negligible effect on voter participation. For instance, efforts in Canada and Switzerland found that it only caused some people to vote earlier but didn’t actually cause more people to vote.
What’s the Matter With Polling? – The New York Times
Expansion of cellphone use has been identified as one of the main trends that’s driving the increasing unreliability of election polling in the United States. With an estimated 43% of people relying entirely on cell phones as their primary communication tool, the established practice of polling people by calling landline phone numbers has become outdated and inaccurate. So what’s the solution for election polling? What do we replace the old method with? How do we ensure the new strategy is effective? One thing that sociologists and polling experts agree on is that this process will take time and some experimentation.
Frontline’s analysis of voting laws nationwide shows that since the last presidential election, at least 18 states have introduced new regulations which, one way or the other, limit voters’ access to the ballot – for instance, cutting early-voting hours, limiting felons’ ability to vote, and imposing stricter voter ID laws. The latter, especially, has become the subject of numerous debates. Some argue that voter ID laws are in direct violation of the Voting Rights Act, and disproportionately impact poor and minority communities, who are less likely to have the money needed to obtain photo ID. Others claim that the laws are necessary to combat voter impersonation fraud and thus, protect the democratic process from potential scams and election falsification. The upcoming 2016 election may present the best test yet of the laws’ true impact.
Online Voter Registration. Trends in Development and Implementation – The Pew Charitable Trusts
When President Barack Obama was first elected in 2008, Arizona and Washington were the only two states that offered online voter registration. As of February 2016, a total of 30 states offer that service. This report outlines the benefits of online voter registration and also discusses some shortcomings and challenges that states face as they upgrade their voting operations systems.
*IDEA is not affiliated with any political party and promotes no particular political ideology.