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The Democracy Fund’s Adam Ambrogi has a new piece entitled “Tech is Not the Enemy” in the Carnegie Reporter about the role technology can and does play in improving the voting experience. It’s too long simply to re-blog – go read the full piece here – but here are a few key excerpts that highlight what an excellent tale on the subject it is:
With the 2018 midterm elections, the United States yet again found itself struggling to shape policies around how it casts and counts votes. Alarm bells were set off by everything from voting machine paper jams to the security of paperless electronic voting machines. Politicians and pundits debated against the uneasy backstory of foreign interference in our most recent presidential election, underscoring the work that remains to be done to improve the efficiency and security of our voting systems. But how did we get here? Why is it that one of the most technically advanced nations in the world is experiencing such an acute crisis in the tallying of votes? The answer is not simple — nor does it have a simple solution. However, at this moment, when faith and trust in our democratic system is in jeopardy, it is crucial that we understand the history of voting technology in this country. It is only then that we can begin to understand how the problem can be fixed.
The counting of votes is organized around two potentially competing priorities or values: accuracy and timeliness. Accuracy requires that the final vote tally reflect the correct aggregate of votes cast by eligible voters. However, a city or county could spend months and months counting and recounting its votes under a system that valued only accuracy. Nevertheless, governance requires the smooth transition of power, which explains the pressure to count ballots quickly — that is, the value of timeliness. The faster an initial tally can be completed, the more confidence the community will have that an election was not meddled with. Both considerations — accuracy and timeliness — are important. It is the tension between the two that drives the conversation around voting technology and voting reforms.
Ambrogi then traces the history of voting technology in the US, starting with lever machines, which were quite innovative for their time, and then moving forward through different iterations to the new debates over the role of electronic tabulation of votes and the need for voter-verifiable and auditable ballots. He then returns to a subject near and dear to this blog – funding:
The next steps in improving voting technology policies rest with election officials, policymakers, and voters. Commissioned by Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Hewlett Foundation, Securing the Vote, a 2018 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, examines and provides recommendations regarding key components of U.S. elections. The report makes a compelling case for using verifiable, auditable, and accessible voting systems, and should be heeded by states not currently employing them. Furthermore, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission needs to adopt the next iteration of voting system standards. Finally, Congress should develop a plan in conjunction with state funding mechanisms to deploy a steady stream of grant dollars to improve election security. The resource question is a key driver and determinant of whether election offices can plan for secure technology, and whether voting system vendors can devote the resources needed to guarantee transparency in this process. [Emphasis added – DMCj] Technology continues to facilitate great advancements in our electoral infrastructure, which is why we must prioritize cybersecurity measures that will continue to safeguard the heart of our democracy.
This really is both a fantastic introduction to the evolution of voting technology for the novice as well as an informed and forceful call for action by the community to recognize the role such technology plays in the voting process. Thanks to Adam for this piece (and to the Carnegie Fund for giving him an outlet) – here’s hoping it contributes to further efforts to bring not just quality thought but quantities of funding to the issue of voting technology nationwide. Stay tuned …