Advantages and Disadvantages of Internet Voting in US Elections Term Paper

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Internet Voting in the U.S.

At least in the last decade, the use of the internet has become a part of the daily schedule of the 90% majority who go online at least daily, 2/3 at least 10 hours a week and 1/3 at least 20 hours a week (Davis 2000), most of them below 25 years old. There has been dramatic growth in the amount of information available online and the number of internet domains. One field or sector on which it has had significant impact is politics -- political candidates, political consultants, journalists and voters are all wondering about and vastly concerned its effects on political activity, such as electronic voting. It was initially predicted to be a grat means of educating and informing the population, an effective way of stimulating people's participation in government, obtaining and measuring their will and opinion and, most importantly, of actually casting their votes from home. For this capability, the internet has been described as a powerful technology of the grassroots democracy, which strengthens that democracy by facilitating the citizens' discussion and collective action. It has also been recognized as a most powerful tool for political organizing in more than half a century.

The internet revolution asserts itself in three ways in the arena of politics: increased access to information by ordinary citizens, an enhanced ability for them to interact with government, and an altered policymaking, which will allow the popular will to be reflected in polity (Davis 2000). The internet promises the readiness and availability of increased and still increasing information to the average citizen and enables the citizen that information he or she receives. Former PBS president Lawrence Grossman, in his book entitled, "The Electronic Republic," the internet has invaded the kitchen, living room, dens, bedrooms, and work places throughout the country and has thus empowered citizens like never before. By merely pushing a button, typing or talking to a computer, citizens can express their will, opinion or query with the President, senators, members of Congress and local leaders. When sufficiently informed and properly motivated, they can exercise their essential democratic right, duty and privilege with convenience through the internet (Davis).

The Bill Clinton / Al Gore presidential team was the first to use the internet as a campaign tool in 1992 (Davis 2000). It had an all-text gopher site, which contained the text of speeches of its candidates, transcripts of radio ads and press releases, which were new at the time but boring at present. In 1994, a few congressional candidates used experimental campaign websites, such as Tom Campbell in California, who represented Silicon Valley. The web first became a major electoral tool in 1996 when Republican candidate Bob Dole used it in a presidential debate and invited voters to view his website. More than a million responded to his invitation, but many more were unable to because he inadvertently announced a wrong web address. In the same year, all major party presidential candidates opened and began maintaining websites, followed by candidates for governor down to school boards. It reached a new height in 1998 when almost all candidates for governor and seven of the 10 senatorial candidates maintained websites. Only a few did not have extensive websites. Furthermore, the nature of online campaign itself changed.

The 1992 online campaign was only experimental and few saw the effort (Davis 2000). Candidates in 1996 expressed their technological capabilities by going online, although some efforts backfired. But 2000 election candidates treated the web as something much more than billboards and realized that it could be an effective mechanism in implementing campaign functions, pursuing goals and transmitting a message (Davis). These most important functions are information dissemination, explanation of campaign message or calling voters' attention to a candidate's accomplishments or capabilities, and gathering volunteers.

Through the internet, a candidate can disseminate information about himself or herself, especially to undecided voters, to vote for him or her (Davis 2000). It also bolsters or reinforces the support or favor of those whom the candidate has already won to his or her side. He or she can transmit positive information about his or her personal characteristics, his or her position in specific issues of interest to voters, how he or she relates with people and empathizes with the people's problems and concerns. The internet also proves to be a convenient medium of introducing, explaining or highlighting his or her program of government, why voters should choose him or her and why not his or her opponents. The internet likewise has the capability of acquiring volunteers who will post campaign materials on the road, hang them on door handles or survey voters on whom they favor or will vote for. This can be done by establishing e-precincts, or neighborhood groups linked to one another through email. And it is a more effective and inexpensive means of raising funds than broadcast advertising. Web sites during the 1996 and 1998 elections contained instructions on how people could donate or send check contributions through email messages. This mode further revolutionized. In the 2000 election, money could be transferred online through card transfers and candidates raised large amounts for campaign spending, as in the case of Bill Bradley who collected $1.5 million online.

Political candidates need not spend all their campaign time shaking voters' hands, visiting far-flung locations and attending meetings and sorties (Davis 2000). Through the internet, they can participate in debates while attending town meetings, exchange information or messages with voters and answer their questions directly or personally. Candidates can also enter chat rooms to communicate and interact with voters, answer questions on the message board and hold virtual town meetings. Most importantly, the internet is a very effective device in encouraging voters to go out and vote, keep regular contact with voters, transmit reinforcing messages, urge voters to get involved in the campaign and remind them to actually exercise their democratic right to vote (Davis).

But there are other and stronger realities in the political scenario. All the promised benefits and advantages of new technology as a tool of democracy all depend on the willingness of the citizens to use the internet in the exercise of their right to suffrage, become more and better informed and get more involved in civic life, according to Anthony Corrado (a qtd in Davis 2000). Those who are active and informed are those who are already politically interested and it is to them that the internet is of special benefit in collecting information, interacting with policy makers and helping shape policy. Other than them, the internet remains largely a tool of the affluent and privileged. Although it has a wide reach in the U.S., still many are left out, such as the minorities, the poor, the less educated. Among these are the Blacks, Hispanics, and the natives Americans who have less access to the internet at their homes. The gap between the white population and these minorities has also widened rather than narrowed in the past years. Income and the level of education have been obstacles to internet use. Studies revealed that 2/3 of families with less than $25,000 annual income do not use the internet. Other than those already involved in the campaign and interested in politics, most people will not develop involvement or that interest just because of the availability of new technology. Quite the opposite, the internet may diminish interest or prevent it. Of those who go online, only 40% will choose political sites. The sheer number of non-political sites will prevent or discourage that interest and that involvement. Nevertheless, voters are increasingly accessing the internet for news about the election, as the 1996 and 2000 election demonstrated that 21% of them did. More than a third of them said that the internet was their primary source of election information. Political scientists and analysts view the internet as turning into a supplement to traditional campaign forms. They saw it as replacing the telephone in encouraging the people to vote but not as a substitute to traditional campaign advertising. Neither is the internet a substitute for billboards where the candidate can post messages and access the majority of voters. Nor are all candidates equal in virtual politics. Incumbent candidates have access to government sites and campaign sites and can utilize official means of exposing their message and advertise themselves. Resource-rich candidates also have the advantage because they are not only often incumbents themselves but are also able to advertise offline (Davis).

The internet suffers from security plagues, such a viruses, worms and other attackers and hackers, rendering it highly vulnerable and unfit as a voting machine (Lyman 2005). Despite the recommendation of researchers, the U.S. government intended to experiment on a voting system in the presidential election in November. This federally funded online absentee voting system, called the Secure Electronic Registration and Experiment, or SERVE, was evaluated by these researchers for security. They reported that the system was widely open to attackers, who can interfere with voting without getting…[continue]

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