When “Internet Voting” Isn’t Internet But Is International

Well, I suppose that with all the marvelous activity at the National Civic Summit this week, and much of it being about elections, it is no surprise that the phrase “Internet Voting” is in the air again. So it seems like a good day to continue earlier threats on the topic, or more specifically, the idea of using the Internet to help with election-related activities, but not to conduct actual voting, like surveymonkey on your home PC, except electing the President of the US.

Having previous written about OR efforts towards online registration for everyone, including overseas voters, I want to continue a focus on overseas voters, and helping them using the Internet. Aside from registering with online assistance, there are two other steps that are necessary for overseas voters to really vote in practice. One step is also part of the registration process, but specific to overseas — 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 other step is — please read carefully, this is not Internet voting — 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”. That’s right, we used the I-word near the the B-word (ballot) but what we’re talking about was and remains the practice of overseas voters marking paper ballots by hand and mailing them to their county elections office.

What’s the benefit? Several, but the most obvious yet pressing one is that “Internet distribution of blank ballots” cuts out half of typical 90+ day roundtrip of absentee ballots that is the problem today — by the time the overseas voter gets the ballot, it is too late to get it back on time. It’s not possible to send it sooner because ballots usually can’t get done any earlier that 60 days before an election. Another benefit is that voters get the full range of contents and ballot measures that they’re entitled to. Today, overseas voters can use the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballotwhich you can download via the Internet! — and have a good chance of you ballot arriving in the mail on-time — but you only get to vote on Federal races. (And run some risk of errors in processing your ballot, being different from the regular absentee ballots.)

That’s right, you can have all, or on time, but not both — today. But by extending the existing practice of online-assisted registration, and blank ballot downloading, plus adding some smarts to find your real, full blank ballot, we can enable overseas voters to have it both ways just like we do at home.