The New York Times’ Ian Urbina recently wrote an interesting article on various states’ activities around allowing email as a means for return of marked ballots from overseas and military voters. I recommend reading it for a number of reasons, but especially because of the large number of rather nuanced issues that Urbina touches on in the space of a relatively brief article. My top picks:

  • “Internet voting” versus “email voting” – term “Internet voting” covers a lot of ground, including variants where there no absentee ballot per se, but instead, some surveymonkey-style screen clicks and browser action to translate the clicks into bits in an HTTP POST operation.
  • “email voting” versus “casting ballot” – email voting includes cases where there is physical absentee ballot that the voter scans in order to email it; when they email the image, is the ballot “cast”? Could be, but is “casting” the point of email?
  • casting ballot” versus “transporting ballot” – email is fundamentally a means for transporting blobs of text that can be augmented with attached files. When voters use email, are they transporting their ballot back to the BOE, or casting their ballot?

Angels could dance on heads of pins indefinitely here, but this dance-ability does show how the conversation can get quite murky quite easily. Another point of subtlety is that parts of what Urbina reports on are pilot efforts on email return, while others are email return as a bona fide standing practice; and some efforts are not about email voting at all, but rather kiosk-based remote voting.

Once you read the article, you’ll have a much better idea why discussion of this topic is likely to get more confused, and confusing, before it gets any clearer.

— EJS