Internet Voting: Inevitable, Complex and Unattractive

2 12 2010

In a previous classes we have touched upon the idea of Internet voting as a means to increase voter participation, so I was interested to learn the takes of Alicia Kolar Prevost and Brian F. Schaffner in their article “Digital Divide or Just Another Absentee Ballot? : Evaluating Internet Voting in the 2004 Michigan Democratic Primary.”

The authors were mostly concerned with how demographics across age, race and privilege impacted use of Internet voting in the 2004 Michigan Democratic Primary. The results were interesting but also a little disappointing. The authors concluded: “… Internet voting has been criticized for being biased against the very voters that are already underrepresented in the electorate. Our analysis finds that in the case of Michigan, this bias was not caused by the Internet method itself but rather by the fact that voting online required the foresight to request an absentee ballot weeks before the election.”

We can’t get to the answer to the question because of absentee ballot contingencies? Really? That’s awfully underwhelming. The authors provided one ray of light, however: “…once we control for this bias inherent in absentee voting generally, we find little evidence that online voting, when implemented as an absentee voting method, is biased along any dimension other than age.” On one hand, this conclusion is undermining in that it infers the known flaws of Internet voting – access limitations to certain demographics  – are already present in general absentee voting, so the notion of Internet voting shows nothing gained and nothing lost. So, then we’re left with the question of usage determined by age, which I don’t view as a flaw at all. Internet voting may have skewed young in this 2004 primary election, but it will take few election cycles before learning curves to Internet usage are diminished. We can’t expect that any new voting option will be embraced by a majority across any demographic at introduction.

Other barriers to Internet voting  not significantly addressed in this article but frequently addressed in class are privacy and security. What measures and resources do political parties (for primaries) and government bodies (for general elections) have to enforce securities that protect voters, authenticate votes and ensure no foul play? Surely Internet voting would be the most vulnerable to attack, and simple PIN numbers for authentication could easily be compromised. In my mind, the greater hurdle as Internet access and voter capability become lesser issues will be implementing a secure voting system that is simple enough for the public to navigate while being robust enough for the public to trust that their votes will be private and secure. I can see the public preferring other absentee voting or in-person voting options due to those complexities that would make Internet voting unattractive.

Given the high adoption rates of general Internet usage, Internet voting is practically unavoidable and inevitable, and I’m at least glad to read that there has been some serious testing and analysis for it. However, I hope that future research will be as concerned with security as much as access and usage.

The Watchdog Press Gets Kenneled and a New Breed of Press Emerges

1 12 2010

As I read Jay Rosen’s article Audience Atomization Overcome: Why the Internet Weakens the Authority of the Press, I was struck by the statement, “Deciding what does and does not legitimately belong within the national debate is—no way around it—a political act. And yet a pervasive belief within the press is that journalists do not engage in such action, for to do so would be against their principles.”

In that statement, Rosen reduced the watchdog press to either naive or coy to their powerful ability to create and sway political news agendas.

As I heard Thor’s stories about being a traditional journalist this past week, I thought about that statement in the context of his blog post kick-off: “If you stand for everything, you stand for nothing.” He wasn’t playing naive or coy. He was recognizing (granted, mostly in the context of local news and sports reporting rather than politics) that there should be a distinct, intentional story angle and perspective in the interest of engaging readers and helping them identify the story constructs, even at personal risk. (I’m glad I haven’t been sued that many times!)

How refreshing. We often credit new media channels as evolving news transparency and quality, but achievements don’t rely on digital or dead tree formats – they rely upon self-aware journalists who understand the societal implications of which and how stories are told and the greater responsibility of the press to the politics. Seeing as there has been only a minority of journalists like Thor out there for the past several decades, a gap has emerged between the press and the people. The watchdog press has become more part of the system of politics than not, and so a new “minorstream” press led in the mainstream by The Daily Show and online by Daily Kos, Huffington Post and leagues of minor bloggers doing the work of questioning how stories are reported and asking the tough questions (whether or not they have the access to get the straight answers).

My sense is that the mainstream press, “minorstream” press will continue to persist and become more defined against each other. This combined wealth of reporting and resource will benefit political discourse in this country and hopefully help the journalists and the general public realize that setting and swaying the news agenda is a political act.