Recently, the Democratic National Committee in Iowa discussed a proposal to implement Internet voting for the 2016 elections. Republicans have also indicated interest in the idea, stoking speculation on whether the United States could see Internet voting in the near future.
According to Fox News, the Iowa Democratic Party is currently floating the idea in regards to the party’s 2016 Presidential Caucus. However, caucuses are unique events. They are usually held in schools, churches and other public buildings, where people gather together to debate and discuss for hours, trying to persuade other voters to back their candidate of choice. As a result, there is some concern that Internet voting could change the spirit of the process.
The Iowa Democrats indicate they’ve already conducted a number of interviews and “listening tours” related to the subject, and voters have reportedly expressed interest in the proposal.
Advocates of Internet voting note that it could help increase voter participation and bring in younger voters. In addition, such a platform could also help include voters who have a difficult time making it to polling stations, such as the elderly or nursing home residents, while also potentially gaining more votes from those working overseas, such as soldiers or contractors.
There are many critics who point to the dangers of Internet voting. For one, there are potential technical glitches or bugs that could make the process difficult, but perhaps an even bigger concern are issues surrounding security and fraud.
Many have put forward the idea of Internet voting in the past. For example, a test run was conducted in the District of Columbia in 2010, but the results were very poor. The Board of Elections and Ethics was forced to shut the project down after only a few days when voters consistently heard the fight song of the University of Michigan while voting online. This was no accident. A University of Michigan professor had asked his students to try their best to hack the system in order to test vulnerabilities.
The fact that the Internet platform was successfully hacked in a matter of days only highlights the vulnerabilities of the Internet. Many security experts consider these vulnerabilities essentially impossible to overcome, as hackers routinely find new ways to circumvent security protocols. For something as important as voting, these security holes present a serious risk to the integrity of the process and may undermine Democratic institutions.
According to the National Democratic Institute, Internet voting also poses other difficult hurdles. For example, it is unclear how election observers, deemed so important to fair elections, would effectively participate in making sure there was a fair election with large portions of the population using Internet voting.
Although there are dangers to this voting strategy, both Republicans and Democrats continue to voice support for such a project in the hope that it will attract more voters and expand their respective bases. Both sides don’t want to fall behind on the idea, lest the other political party can better capitalize on the development of Internet voting.
While there are some countries — particularly in Europe — where Internet voting has been seen in some form, Estonia is the only country where it has been introduced to the entire electorate. According to the Estonian National Election Committee, the project was started in 2005 and saw around 8,000 people using the Internet to vote. The vote is encrypted and there are strict guidelines surrounding this particular voting method, but the Estonian authorities also indicate that there are still potential security concerns.
Whether Iowa DNC proposal will go through has not been decided, but it is clear that Internet voting is a proposal that is being seriously considered. If such a platform becomes available to voters, the effect on the Democratic process, voter participation rates and the changing nature of political participation will be substantial and long lasting. For now, voters will have to wait and see whether they can stay home in 2016 and click their way to electing a new president.