The problems with an online app that led to an embarrassing delay in tabulating the results of the Iowa caucus votes for Democratic presidential candidates should serve as a not-so-subtle reminder that online voting is not quite ready for prime time.
Still, there is a test program for online voting in the state of Washington that could prove useful in identifying what works and what areas need more work. By experimenting with a small election, the risks are greatly reduced.
In the Seattle area, more than a million registered voters can use a smartphone or computer to cast a ballot in a relatively obscure election for an open spot on the King County Conservation District board. Registered voters can access a ballot by logging into a specially created portal using their name and birth date. They have the option of printing a ballot and returning it by mail, or submitting it online with an electronic signature.
The elections board will verify the signature and print a secure copy before processing the ballot.
This is only a test program and, because of security concerns, the nation is a long way from making online voting the norm, but it’s a worthwhile project that could lead to making voting more convenient for more citizens.
Election security experts are taking a cautious approach to the pilot program, and for good reason. There are numerous security risks in transmitting ballots over the internet, given the ongoing data breaches and hacking attempts that have affected companies with much more intense security protocols. There remains widespread concern over election integrity stemming from foreign interference efforts uncovered in the 2016 elections.
Still, there are benefits to the test program. Having a ballot available online, even if it has to be mailed back rather than submitted electronically, makes it more convenient for voters and saves local governments the cost of mailing them.
The voting period in this election lasted until Feb. 11, giving voters more than two weeks to return a ballot rather than limiting voting to one specific day. And election officials are optimistic that voter turnout will increase because of the convenience factor.
Internet voting may be inevitable, but there’s a lot more testing and analysis that needs to be done, as evidenced by the technology snafus that delayed the Iowa caucus results.
In the meantime, experiments such as this in Washington should continue in hopes of finding ways to improve voter participation.