Standing in a long line can be reason enough for most people to avoid doing something, even if it’s something important like voting for government leaders. To increase participation, many are in favor of adopting an online voting platform to make voting easier and more convenient for citizens. After all, even the U.S. Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), which is notorious for long lines and waits, offers online services in some of its branches.
While the prospect of online voting is exciting, some security experts believe that the risks are too high to implement online voting now or in the near future. Even though there are potential disadvantages and risks, online voting also has many advantages. To understand what online voting entails, let’s look at the logistics behind it.
To work properly, online voting would require a government-approved identity system and a voting mechanism that uses that identity, and is trusted by both the government and citizens. This would require a platform or series of platforms that secure user identities while maintaining a transparent process to ensure fair elections. To meet these criteria, an independent organization would have to oversee the project, checking the systems and processes. In other words, online voting might be easier for citizens, but it would be expensive and logistically complicated for governments that try to implement it successfully and securely.
Online voting presents a distinct challenge when it comes to user identity. Some would argue that if we can securely bank online without having our identities compromised, surely we can securely vote online. However, the difference lies in the relationship. A client is to a bank as a citizen is to a government. Banks provide a service that the client can cancel at any time, but you can’t simply switch to a new government the way you can move to another bank. In other words, once you have established an online identity with the government to vote, government officials will be able to access and manage that online identity, which citizens will have to be comfortable with if they want to vote online. For U.S. citizens, this might be a tough sell, considering recent concerns over government surveillance.
Despite the logistical challenges, online voting would offer unparalleled convenience compared to traditional voting methods. It would allow citizens to vote from home in their pajamas on a smartphone if they wanted. Even better, online voting would eliminate the need for absentee ballots. Citizens abroad during elections could simply log in to the voting platform with their approved ID and cast their vote. What’s more, developers could leverage social media platforms such as Facebook or Twitter to make online voting even easier. And although social media wouldn’t be the sole platform for voting, it’s possible that it could act as a kind of voting booth—connecting your social media ID to your government ID and offering an online voting portal.
Governments could also benefit from online voting by polling citizens frequently and receiving real-time, granular feedback on important issues in order to serve them better.
Even with the level of convenience that online voting offers, there are some disadvantages to consider. Ultimately, online voting will have to be a supplement, not a replacement, to paper ballots. After all, not everyone has, or even wants, Internet access. To avoid excluding or disenfranchising individuals or groups, paper ballots will need to be available in some way, shape or form, for a long time to come.
The verdict isn’t in yet for online voting. While its benefits are enticing, the potential disadvantages and security risks are substantial. Government bodies will have to coordinate closely with security professionals in order to develop a secure, convenient method for citizens to cast their votes online.
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