Trust, transparency and tech for better local elections
- By Nimit Sawhney, Hilary Braseth
- Mar 06, 2019
Despite record-level turnout for a midterm election, less than half of eligible voters cast a ballot during last November’s contests. When combined with election meddling threats, shifting demographics and advances in technology, it's clear elections are at a breaking point, and the ways we engage in the democratic process in the 21st century must shift.
How do we address this widespread infrastructural need, and what role should technology play? Many believe that a paper-only system is the only secure solution. The unfortunate reality is that no solution is 100 percent tamper-proof -- paper included. So what route best secures elections infrastructure, increases voter turnout and holds government accountable? And how can we build a system resilient enough for the future?
Multiple avenues must be pursued to solve engagement and security challenges. We cannot sit idly by, nor can we expect Band-Aids on the current system to solve this deep and complex problem. Technology will play an important role, and has the potential to remedy some of the challenges that keep election officials awake at night. By leveraging the latest developments in smartphone hardware (biometrics, Face ID), with encryption and blockchain technology, we can make it possible and safe for people to vote with their smartphones.
Today's smartphones are up to the task with the heightened security features built into the latest hardware. Additionally, smartphone ownership is 94 percent among people aged 18-29, 89 percent for those aged 30-49, and 73 percent for those aged 50-64 in the United States, according to Pew Research. By no means should we switch to a smartphone-only elections system, or one without a paper option. There should always be options around voting methods, as long as those alternatives are tested and enable a post-election audit with a voter-verified paper trail.
When new technology is moved into a new space, many questions arise -- and we should welcome them. New voting technology must be built slowly and deliberately, one step at a time, with the advice and guidance of election officials, academics and security experts. These new systems must be audited by independent third parties because security is a process -- not a destination -- requiring consistent upkeep, innovation and development to remain ahead of potential threats.
The easiest and most impactful place to start implementing these new elections solutions is improving voting options for citizens living overseas, especially members of the military and their families. With the lowest rates of voter turnout, citizens living abroad are the most affected by our archaic elections technology. There are more than 3 million overseas voters, and 93 percent of them did not vote in 2016 -- often because of infrastructural barriers. This means that many who wanted to vote could not, because their postal mail, fax or email voting options are either unreliable, inaccessible or insecure and have consistently fallen short of their needs. For those who lay their lives on the line overseas in service of this country, these infrastructural barriers are unacceptable.
These voters living abroad could greatly benefit from mobile-based voting. Elections officials, too, would save time transcribing overseas submissions, a process that can take days in states with large numbers of overseas voters.
Mobile voting is not the only solution that we should pursue to solve our elections challenges. We must make it easier and safer to vote, which means identifying the right way, or combination of ways, to address demographic and geographic shifts. We must also support integrity, trust and transparency in our elections. To ensure our democratic processes are strong enough to endure for centuries to come, our elections infrastructure demands a multilayered response requiring many actors, bold ideas and fervent pursuits -- no one solution will be enough.
Nimit Sawhney is the co-founder and CEO of Voatz.
Hilary Braseth is director of product at Voatz.