Don’t Trust Anyone Who Won’t Let You Vote on the Internet

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

They want to make it so much easier for you to vote, say California’s leaders.

It’s hard to believe them.

Then why do their suggestions double down on methods of voting that actually constitute barriers to voting? Instead of eliminating voter registration, they want to expand it. Even as the mail gets less reliable, they want to move us more to mail voting. (And how many young people bother to look at their mail?)

It’s a basic test of seriousness. If you really want to encourage more people to vote – particularly young people – you have to be for Internet voting. It’s where people are.

The suggestion will trigger concerns about security. And all the related (and unsupported) conspiracy theories about machine voting. And that triggers concerns about legitimacy.

But California elections are so low turnout that they already face legitimacy problems. Some other countries have managed to have Internet voting without significant problems (here is a link to a world map on e-voting). Proper Internet systems offer all kinds of security measures, including giving people to check that their vote is registered correctly. Right now, that’s not something a California voter can easily do; doesn’t that constitute a security problem?

I’m sorry, but Internet voting is a very basic and fair litmus test. You’re telling me my whole life – bills, banking, shopping, even all the data on my kid and his homework at his public school – is on the Internet. But it’s not safe for me to vote there? Huh?

If security fears trump the participation advantages of Internet voting, that’s how things are. But let’s not pretend that participation is the top priority our leaders say it is.

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