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Voting in the 21st Century: Mushroom vs. Cloud

by Rob Weber, published


I became an advocate for online voting in the United States because I strongly believe we need greater voter participation.  Higher voter turnout from all demographic groups, particularly younger working voters, is an important goal.  Common sense tells me that making voting less inconvenient can help us achieve that goal.

Higher turnout is certainly still the dream of online voting advocates.  After several years of listening to opponents,  however,  I must admit that I am equally moved by frustration over how our current voting systems are characterized by most "election integrity" advocates.  There is a distinct "if it aint broke don't fix it" attitude regarding election modernization.  The problem, of course, is that the status quo is extremely broken.

Have you ever heard of "mushroom ballots?"  Election insiders use this term to refer to paper ballots that "emerge from the shadows" weeks, months, or even years after an election.  They either accidentally or criminally end up in someone's garage, the trunk of a car, or shoved in the wrong folder and stored away uncounted.  In case you think these are just stories from the past, think again.  Several months ago hundreds of ballots popped up in different elections in New York City. Make no mistake, this kind of thing still happens all the time.

We all remember the U.S. Presidential election of 2000 and Bush V. Gore.  We saw the impact that a small number of poorly designed ballots had on a major election. Proponents of voting on paper seem to have forgotten.  They insist we can't trust our elections to digital technology, despite using it for everything else in our lives, because of the "scale" of impact if something goes wrong. What larger scale does one need than Bush V. Gore?

Ballot confusion will always happen with paper voting. Too many things get crammed onto one page, or multiple pages are used.  Some counties in Florida were using ballots up to 12 pages long in last year's election, bringing about the eight hour long lines to vote on election day.

Next time opponents of online voting"are "warning" you about security issues that are quite theoretical, ask yourself what is secure about paper voting.  The mushroom ballots alone answer that question, and there is nothing theoretical about them.

Online voting, on the other hand, gives you much more than added convenience.  It brings the very security and auditability that the election integrity people claim is so vital.  All important data is kept forever, in redundant fashion on multiple servers.  No votes ever emerge from the shadows or disappear into them with digital voting.

Ever hear of an "over-vote"?  Your ballot is thrown away when the people hand counting the votes (usually partisan election supervisors) decide that a stray pencil mark on your ballot invalidates it.  Your vote is then literally thrown in the garbage.  How many times have you taken the trouble to vote, only to have it not count?  You'll never know because it isn't like they tell you.  As for online voting, there are no over-votes, ever.

Recently, when I claimed in a discussion about voting that most critics are unwilling to examine the severe flaws of the status quo, a prominent advocate for paper voting disagreed.  He said the election integrity community is very interested in how to make a more secure paper ballot, a better marker, or a more efficient way to hand recount the ballots.  Should this be what the future of voting brings us, a better paper ballot or a better marker?

So how do you think we should be voting in the United States in the decades to come - mushrooms or cloud?

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