Oregon Elections in the Digital Age: Please Start at the Beginning

Oregon is one of several states that this month have legislative activity that’s starting to look at the phrase "Internet voting". Wired Oregon reports on Attempts to Bring Elections into Digital Age as a pair of bills, one for online voting, and one for online voter registration. But the reference to the recent report on the Pew Center on the States is a bit misleading. The report was on recent experience in overseas voting as being (my word) dismal, and recommending improvements. The misleading part is that Pew’s recommendations were not for online voting systems, but for use of the Internet to improve overseas voting — with an emphasis on near term efforts in distribution of registration forms and ballots.

So let me be clear about where I think Oregon should start: at the beginning, with voter registration. Online voter registration is quite feasible for a very important reason: it is possible to automate the process, without changing the fraud model. OSDV’s work-in-progress voter registration system provides one example: citizens use the Web to get assistance in correctly providing the required information for voter registration, and printing a correct registration to be mailed. Only when a clerk receives the paper form, and finds an acceptable signature, is the online registration application moved forward. That’s one example of a way to meet Oregon’s stated goal of doing online registration in way that retains vetting for authenticity.

Having started at the beginning with online registration for everyone, including overseas voters, there are two next steps to help overseas voters, using the Internet, but not doing "Internet voting". The first step is enable overseas voters to do online application for the extra registration step of being an overseas voters (a step which some states require to be renewed every 2 years). The second step is to enable overseas voters to use the Web to navigate to their correct ballot for the upcoming election, and download and print it. This is called "Internet distribution of blank ballots". There’s more to say about that, but the point is that it’s a great near term way to use the tools of Digital Age to make a significant impact on current election dysfunction, without changing the methods of ballot casting and counting to be even more dependent on opaque and untrustworthy computing systems.

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