If you look into news stories about election reform following our latest election, you (thankfully) won’t see much on reforming or removing the Electoral College, because it wasn’t a Presidential election year. You’ll see some RHEEEEE about the Senate being “undemocratic,” which is a stupid complaint, because:
- The United States isn’t a democracy, it’s a Constitutional Republic.
- The Senate is intended to represent the states, not individual voters, and our Republic is a federation of 50 states who are independent and equal, thus equal representation in the Senate.
Along with the Electoral College, the Senate is as it should be – an effective check on unlimited mob rule, and in the modern day, the only reasons that New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco don’t run the whole country.
That being the case, I’m not interested in reforming the Constitution’s mandates over how we vote. It’s the process of collecting, recording and reporting votes that I’m concerned with. Our voting system, by mandate in the Constitution, is run by the states. And it’s a mess, as recent events in Florida has shown. Why can’t we modernize our voting system?
Recently was saw the cluster-foul-up of epic proportions in Florida, caused in no small part by a mishmash of voting procedures and clumsy voting machines used to tally paper ballots. In an era where we can manage our entire lives online, and where biometric security has become commonplace, why can’t we modernize and streamline (and, oh yes, implement a robust voter ID system) our elections?
Let’s imagine a voter registration system where your name and particulars are entered into a secure, validated database, and while registering to vote you are required to verify your ID and then enter a couple of biometrics – say, fingerprint and retinal scan.
When you vote, you can do it one of two ways: Go to your polling place, verify your ID on a secured-network, validated voting machine, then enter your votes – or, open the official app on your mobile device, verify your ID by biometric, and vote.
It’s the damned 21st century, I refuse to believe we can’t make this work. But here are some pros and cons:
- A two-stage biometric scan (fingerprints, retinal scan) would be even more secure than showing an ID at the polling place – and much more secure than the mail-in system that our own Colorado uses. Want voter ID? That’s some serious voter ID.
- Instant results. You could have election results, live, in real time. No recounts, no hanging chads, no damaged ballots – and no “ooh, look, we miraculously found a box of ballots in the trunk of a car!”
- Voter turnout. Making voting secure and convenient would make more people likely to vote. A big part of every election effort involves all parties working to turn out their base; this would eliminate most of the reason for those efforts.
- Remove humans from the process. As a consultant well into a long career helping businesses solve quality problems, one of the best ways to get better results from a system is to reduce or remove variables from the process. In Japan they call this poka-yoke, (ポカヨケ) or “mistake proofing.” (A less charitable version is baka-yoke, or “idiot proofing.”) We can do this to our voting system by automating it. Humans are, by our nature, variable.
- If a system exists, it can be hacked. Now encrypted systems can be pretty damned secure, and in the case of an online voting system, we could get folks like the NSA on the case with their high-forehead experts on data security. But the threat exists all the same.
- No centralization. It would have to be set up and managed by the states, as the Constitution places almost all power to run elections in those hands. Getting a streamlined, secure and validated system together fifty times is harder than doing it once, but the Constitution mandates things be done that way, which is one of the reasons we’re in the mess we’re in now.
- Voter turnout. Let’s be honest; a lot of people who do vote probably shouldn’t. This would make it easier for the ignorant and stupid to vote, too.
Not being an IT guy, I’m not sure such a system can be set up fifty times with ample security and control to be used in elections, but I suspect it can. And in evaluating such a system, here’s one primary question to ask:
“Would it be better or worse than what we’re doing now?”
Because what we’re doing now is pretty messed up.