In a previous post, I noted two things we’ve learned from this election. The first (and subject of that post) is to what extent the Internet has changed the way elections are conducted. The second, and the focus here, is to what extent the election taught us anything about the need to re-invent HOW America votes.
In the past two days, I’ve been asked several times whether the election, as it turned out, reduces the importance of our Project or not. Seriously.
This election has done nothing but fortify our need to press forward in re-inventing the foundation of technology on which America increasingly relies to cast, count, and verify votes in a digital age.
Let me start by reminding us of an important — perhaps the most important — statement in President-Elect Obama’s victory address:
I believe this is a battle cry for our advancing the cause of the OSDV Project. But let me offer some more fodder.
Our great democracy can no longer afford to ask its busy citizens — who are working hard for their living — to wait hours in line to cast their ballots. Yet, our current systems ask us to do precisely that. Some would argue that it is our civic duty. After all, comparatively, there are countries who compel voting by law — perhaps because their struggle to win democracy in the first place is still a poignant memory.
But I digress. Waiting hours in line, battling for legitimacy in the face of an errant voter roll print out, and wrangling with archaic or obsolete machinery or ballot casting processes should not be summarily waved off as civic duty.
I’d rather see election day become a national holiday following a weekend, with fast, reliable, secure, and verifiable processes in place for casting our ballot. Then the time could be used to really perform our real civic duty: to make informed choices by studing the issues, reviewing the choices, participating in the national or local discourse, and reflecting on the importance of this cherished right.
So what of this just completed ’08 election in terms of irregularities, technical difficulties, or other potential problems? Here are five that I tracked, heard or read about, and have been reported elsewhere.
2. Even When Things Go Right, They Can Go Wrong.
Reports filed in all night about challenges at the polling places resulting in provisional ballots (that are often cast out), or worse, people turned away. Even people who are properly registered and ready to cast their ballot can run into problems. We recently moved within our county and I ended up receiving two ballots (we vote by mail in Oregon). (By contrast, my wife finally re-registered from CA to OR after we consolidated residences and sold our SFO home this year, and things went smoothly.) These problems are probably a technology issue. Election boards can and should have Computers, PCs, or online access at all polling places so that poll workers can immediately verify registrants. While there are reasonable arguments against technology (that are curable), the question remains: in a digital age, with all that is available, why shouldn’t precincts take at least the minimum steps to avail themselves of the necessary information tools and data to dynamically authenticate, verify, and authorize a registrant to cast their ballot?
I understand that election processes are best left to the individual states to administer. I will not go down that rat hole of whether that should be the case. But wherein an election contains a federal contest, some consistency seems reasonable.
The fact is, there is no baseline standards for organizing and administering a federal election. The result: different states have different rules; in some cases, rules differ within a state by county and sometimes even within counties by precinct. And yet, increasingly, the need for accuracy is critical to the outcome.
Simply put, notwithstanding the outcome this week, our system of elections is dysfunctional.
If we are the leading role model of democracy to the world — a society as advanced as the United States is — why shouldn’t our systems for elections be equally advanced with highly reliable, accountable, consistent and trustworthy methods and means?
If this is the window of opportunity to bring about change, and such cannot happen if we allow things to remain as they are, or worse, return to as they were, then now is the time to address the cornerstone of our democracy — HOW we vote. Yes, we can.
It is time to transform our system of elections into one that is truly democratic; truly reliable; truly trustworthy. Yes, we can.