Yeah, I’m not going to lie: I almost didn’t vote last week. The whole process is really a pain.
And, if you were like the rest of America, you probably didn’t vote; the 2010 midterm elections had a voter turnout rate of 38.2 percent. The youth demographic, which came out in force in 2008 to launch President Obama into office, dropped by half this year to a measly nine percent turnout rate. Many efforts have been used to boost turnout, specifically among younger Americans, from Facebook reminders to P-Diddy’s “Vote or Die” campaign. Still, despite these efforts, low turnout is still the norm. It is easy to blame apathetic, irresponsible youth or a decrease in civic pride, but the real blame lies on a system that has not changed with the times. An important step that needs to be taken if democracy is going to work is to allow for people to vote online from their home computer in major elections.
The biggest cultural shift of the last two decades is the significance of computer and Internet use in daily life. Seventy-seven percent of North American residents are Internet users, with a total of 220.1 million users just in the U.S. There are 350 million Facebook users and 126 million online blogs. Ninety trillion emails were sent in 2009 alone. As you can see, the Internet is not only popular, but also necessary for society to function.
And for democracy to function, a country needs as many voters as possible voting. Does an election truly reflect the people’s will if only nine percent of the 18- to 29- year-old demographic comes out to the polling place? Certainly not. This demographic is composed of college students and young professionals, who are caught up in the hustle of early adulthood. Often these individuals are not even in their hometowns, and getting an absentee ballot can be complicated and difficult. Voting, even if they believe in its principles, may not end up happening when it’s time. Online voting would increase youth turnout at elections, and also that of stay-at-home parents, those with disabilities, and those needing to vote absentee. While it won’t alleviate true voter apathy, the excuse of not remembering or having the time or ability would not exist.
Future generations of youth are going to be raised on technology even more than today, and thus it is imperative that online voting be instituted as soon as possible. While some might feel that it would take away the civic pride one feels from voting in person, in an ideal situation, online voting would be a supplement, and voters should be able to choose their voting method.
Still, current online voting systems suffer possible security risks. In an experiment, Washington D.C.’s Board of Elections and Ethics invited hackers to try breaking a trial voting system; it only took 36 hours to exploit a fatal flaw. This seems discouraging, but that these security flaws were found at all is an important step. Additionally, there are systems in place in America and elsewhere that have withstood security trials. “The system we have is totally different. You can’t compare apples and oranges,” West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant told TIME magazine. Voters in the Mountain State can vote “using a complex, privately designed system that includes a secure website, passwords and encryption codes.” While perfect online voting security measures may not currently be in place, the answers can be found if the right effort and resources are allocated.
The current voting system suffers a cultural bias: Those who have the time and motive are generally older individuals who, through tradition and habit, are statistically more likely to show up and vote in person. However, it is time for democracy to enter the 21st century. Given the proper security measures, adding an online voting supplement to major elections is the future: It would make voting easier, fairer, and more accessible.
Peter L. Knudson ’13, a Crimson editorial writer, lives in Eliot House.