Voter involvement is a challenge facing democracies, in particular the US. Voting for political positions is too hard, and process impediments make it harder. Some of these impediments are archaic, such as the requirement that national elections be held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. Some of these impediments are devious, such as the attempt to suppress low-income or minority turnout by reducing the time available to register to vote. Some of the impediments are procedural, such as the requirement that all eligible people vote on the same day, within a fixed set of hours. Along with these impediments are various confounding items, such as the bogeyman of voter fraud, the prospect of hand-counting inaccurate ballots especially during recounts, the inconsistencies around counting of absentee ballots, etc.
I believe technology can solve all of these problems. For the rest of this discussion, let us put aside the question of political will. Can the rest of the problems be solved with the best technology we have or can invent? Will technology introduce new problems? Can we surmount those? If we can, I believe we will bring voting technology into the modern age, increase voter participation, and ensure fairer elections.
I believe we have the technology available to solve the problem of secure voting. Daily, we transact billions of dollars on the internet, using banks, credit cards, shopping sites. For the most part, these transactions occur flawlessly, with no loss, no faking of transactions, no leakage of private information. In addition, annually, an increasing fraction of the population submits its tax returns electronically, again flawlessly, safely and privately. Technologies such as cryptography and blockchain hold the promise of enabling secure transactions, with vanishingly low probabilities of insecurity.
There are three classes of problems that must be solved with technology. First, the basic voting problem, with its attendant sub-problems of authentication, authorisation, privacy, counting, etc. Second, the problems intoduced by technology, namely the perception that the technology can be hacked, the programmers introduce bugs or bias, the dangers of spoofing identity, the need for a “paper trail”, etc. Third, for the forseeable future, sections of the populace may not have access to the technology, therefore the technological solution must co-exist with a version of the “old-school” process.
For now, I do not have solutions to all of these problems. I don’t believe I will be able to invent the best solutions for all of the problems, or any solution to any of the problems. My goal in this post is to merely lay out the problems we have to solve, to spur our thinking.