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.




2 responses

6 12 2010

I sense we’re going to disagree on this, Paolo, but that’s what makes the world go ’round. If the question is, “Is internet voting inevitable?” I believe, Yes, it is. But if the question is, “Should internet voting become reality?” I say No.

Here’s why: I believe the most diligently informed and caring voters are those willing to make the trek to a polling place (excepting, of course, those who are ill & immobile, serving overseas, etc) and this is a fair measuring stick for determining how our democracy will be best served.

Any system allowing for an improper party to log on and vote as somebody else should be nipped in the bud – not to mention an overbearing or abusive spouse or other family member controlling another person’s vote through intimidation or coercion. This has nothing but bad news written all over it.

6 12 2010
week 10 – where do we go from here? « Digital Democracy

[…] posts: Paolo, […]

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