Monday, April 20, 2009

Online Voting at the Politics Online Conference?

Online voting came up a couple of times at the Secretary of States panel this morning. First was an offhand comment by CA Sec of State Debra Bowen. Answering a question about privacy and security concerns with the use of new technology for registration, applying for absentee ballots, etc she said something like, "if we had online voting I would have to keep a file of all voters' iris imprints. I don't want to keep a file of your iris imprints." Then the moderator said, "But I want to vote online!" And Bowen replied, ok I'll keep your iris imprints. So, not a very serious intro to the online voting discussion, in my opinion. Then Bowen said there was a panel this afternoon devoted to online voting. Not really, it seems to me. The panel is called "The Future of Voting Technology" and seems to include alot on electronic voting machines. We'll see...

Then there was one question specifically on online voting: "Which of you Secretaries of State will have the bragging rights to being the first state to offer online voting?" Brunner: there is a program I think in Texas where one county e-mails PDFs of the ballot to overseas military personnel. We would like to do something like that. It is a slow process, we will take it slowly.
Bowen: we do that now (e-mail PDFs of ballot overseas) but then people have to fax them back and that compromises secrecy of ballot. More Bowen: we could have an online voting system now, but to have a secure system it would be prohibitively expensive. With only a few elections each year, the cost would not be worth the benefit. Also Bowen added: "I'm sure someone will figure out a way to do this, eventually." Well, maybe not if the people in this room are not even working on it.

PDFs? Faxes? For two very impressive Secretaries of State, who have made impressive progress in bringing online gvernment services to their constituents, these answers about online voting did not impress me. Clearly, online voting is not at the top of their agendas - they are working on improving technology in voting, but right now online voting is not part of it.

This conference is not about online voting. It is about campaigning and organizing online, delivering govt services online, using social networking sites for political campaigns, using electronic media effectively. But as someone who is writing a dissertation about online voting, I wish there was more work being done by the conference participants on this issue.

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