Election Attitude, How Internet Voting Leads to a Stronger Democracy
By John R. Patrick
©2016 Attitude, LLC
As we near another climax in the seemingly endless cycle of political campaigns, we will soon have the opportunity to actually vote. Recently a significant amount of news coverage has been devoted to the election process itself. After many discussions about how our government would function, the Founding Fathers left the running of elections entirely to the states. John R. Patrick puts aside any hint of politics and begins his latest book with the premise that our democracy will be made stronger when more citizens participate in the vote, so Election Attitude is about how to achieve that goal. The subtitle says it all, John’s premise is that voting on the Internet is a leap forward that will strengthen our democracy.
At 122 pages plus 61 pages of notes and index the book presents this topic as succinctly as possible and, as I read the book, I started to understand the complexity of the subject.
Election Attitude starts with an assessment of voter participation in the US compared to other countries, along with notes about the voting methods used, including absentee voting. John makes the case that our lower participation rates are not entirely due to apathy. If voting were no more difficult than buying a book on Amazon, increased voter participation would strengthen our democracy. The book continues with an overview of the current state of voting in a variety of states, along with how we got here. Voting is as much about the technology as it is about the process. We learned this the hard way in the Presidential election of 2000 in Florida. After which, even Congress understood that our country had a serious problem. The Help America Vote Act, passed in 2002, gave the states block grants to update their voting technology. The equipment purchased at that time is now a dozen or more years old. Are you still using your laptop from twelve years ago?
In Chapter 3, John explains what he means by an Election Attitude:
“An election attitude is a different way of thinking about the voting process. For election officials and voting technology vendors, an election attitude means putting the citizen first, making it easy to register and vote in a way which provides the security, privacy, accuracy, verifiability, auditability and reliability people expect.”
There is much more innovation in voting technology in other countries. Chapter 4 discusses Internet voting around the world. Estonia does all voting over the Internet. The system they implemented uses layers of encryption to provide security along with privacy and auditability. It is very innovative but it relies on a government-issued citizen identity card; something that is controversial here. In this country there have been trials in several states beginning in 2000 to improve voting access for military and overseas voters by voting over the Internet. The normal absentee process is just not suitable for overseas military and civilian voters due to the time it takes to obtain and return a paper ballot by mail. Remember, these voters must receive the ballot appropriate for their jurisdiction so they can vote on all of the positions and issues up for election in their precinct.
Chapter 4 continues to review the technology presently available for Internet voting. None of this seemed to be ready for full-scale adoption so the principles of Net Attitude apply here in spades: “Think Big, Act Bold, Start Simple, Iterate Fast”. Internet voting must overcome a Catch-22: Only through actual trials can it be proven trustworthy, but it must be trusted before it can be tested. This comes from the knee-jerk reaction of naysayers that the Internet cannot be secure.
In our polarized political society, naturally there are people totally opposed to Internet voting in any form, and they seem to be more organized than the proponents. The opposition takes the form of dogma as in: Internet voting is not secure and can never be secure. At several points in the book, John describes how this opposition compares Internet voting to an ideal voting system – something we do not have now. Such a comparison is unrealistic.
Internet voting is only one of the options to improve how we vote in this country. The states of Oregon and Washington have both adopted voting by mail which could be viewed as an interim step.
One of the possible technologies that could be employed to enable Internet voting is the blockchain. The blockchain is the basis for Bitcoin, the best known of the digital currencies. A blockchain is a distributed ledger that is maintained and synchronized across many servers which must all agree. Once a transaction is recorded in the blockchain, it can never be changed. Any attempt at altering a transaction would be refused by the other servers in the network, all of which follow the same rules. Anyone can add a server to this “system”; the software is all open source.
The same blockchain technology can be used for more than just Bitcoin. For example, it could record your automobile title. When you buy or sell your car, the transaction would be added to the blockchain. When you need to prove ownership or determine who owns a specific vehicle, the record could be retrieved from anywhere in the world. While votes may seem somehow different from money or vehicle ownership, they can be recorded and retrieved in the same way. The blockchain ensures the votes cannot be altered or lost once they are recorded. Naturally the book goes into more detail describing examples.
That John made all this logical and clear in a relatively short book gives credit to his writing style, which is clear and easy to read.
John has graciously allowed DACS to give a free copy of the book to the first twenty members arriving at the meeting on October 4th. Additional copies will be available for purchase.
Related: October Preview: Election Attitude – Dr. John R. Patrick