From Faulty Voting Machines to Voter ID, Virginia Has A Serious Democratic Deficit

The phrase “democratic deficit” is somewhat of a wonky term usually only used in the world of political science nerds. But its basic meaning is simple: it is the situation that comes about when a government does not have much input from its citizens.

Obviously, no level of government in the United States can be labelled “undemocratic,” but in the context of the expectations that Americans have for their representative governments, the situation in Virginia is somewhat concerning.

On April 15, The Guardian reported that Virginia’s “voting machines used in numerous elections between 2002 and 2014 used ‘abcde’ and ‘admin’ as passwords and could easily have been hacked” by even an amateur computer user. Further, “the version of Windows operating on each of them had not been updated since at least 2004,” making this situation all the more asinine.

The fear with such large defects in voting machines is that they could conceivably be hacked and votes could be altered, potentially allowing one person to determine which side wins an entire area of a state. If some see this fear as farfetched, the knowledge that “[a]nyone within a half mile could have modified every vote, undetected,” might change their minds.

Further, “gerrymandering has become so scientifically precise” there that very few of the commonwealth’s elections have been close over the past few elections.

Another aspect of voting in Virginia that many see as detrimental to voter participation is the fact that it — along with several other states — has voter ID laws, something Democrats in the commonwealth have aggressively opposed.

What this all adds up to is a system of voting that citizens have difficulty believing in. If voters don’t believe in the system, what incentive do they have to participate? In 2014, for example, less than thirty percent of Virginia’s voting population turned out to vote.

This is not to say that Virginia is the only state with voter participation problems. Texas’ voter turnout in 2015 was only a little over thirty percent, not much better than Virginia’s.

But this situation is a perfect opportunity to point out two essential elements needed for democracy to function properly.

First, all levels of government in the United States, whether federal, state, or local, must ensure that proper voting conditions are available so that citizens do not have to worry about whether or not their vote actually matters. Voters undoubtedly have enough of a hard time believing that their vote counts during a national election in a country of over 300 million people and there is no reason to make them feel even more discarded.

The second is for voters to demand fair and secure voting situations to better ensure proper voting conditions. Public opinion and participation are the catalysts of progress in a democracy. Without the people raising their concerns, the issue does not get addressed.

As much as we like to say that this should not even be an issue ordinary citizens have to complain about — that something like the fairness and security of voting conditions should already be well managed — the fact of the matter is that sometimes these types of problems are not handled well and it is up to citizens to make their voices heard and seek out solutions.

It should be noted that there are many other ways for citizens to exercise influence in a democracy that we either observe or hear about every day (petitions, for example). So if voting standards are below par, voting in elections is not the only means of fixing such issues. They are not ideal, but they can lead to results.

Thankfully, Virginia has pulled the faulty voting machines from use, meaning that future elections may be a little more secure. However, the commonwealth still has other issues it needs to work on.

Photo Credit: Rob Crandall /