The current system for registering voters in our country was designed in a time-frame before the computer industry had become such a major power in our day-to-day lives. In a time when citizens can order everything from automobiles to movie tickets online, the technology exists to also streamline this system. State, and county governments have the ability to make it simpler for each voter to participate in the democratic process by creating online voter registration, and voting processes.
The current system is deliberately built around cumbersome checks and balances, in order to guard against voting fraud. Currently, John Voter can register to vote when he reaches legal age. His voter registration information is stored in a database which is printed out and distributed to the individual county precincts on Election day. This hard copy is in the hands of volunteer voter referees who oversee each transaction. When Mr. Voter presents himself, and identification at the polling center, this name is manually checked off the list, and he is allowed to vote. If Mr. Voter has not registered prior to the Election Day, he is disallowed his right to vote. Similarly, this process of manually verifying the identity of each voter also prevents voters from registering their votes twice.
Mr. Voter then is then given a ballot, and records his vote manually on a punch card, this is returned to the referees for safe keeping. These cards are eventually tallied via antiquated computer card readers, and the results are electronically delivered to the stage agency responsible for verifying the election. This process is reminiscent of taking a shopping cart of groceries to the front of the store, and watching the cashier manually ring in the department code, and price of every item on an archaic, oversices adding machine. So much additional accounting ability, inventory control, and pricing accuracy has been created by computerized scanners in retail stores. These companies went through a difficult learning curve to install and implement these machines. But without computerized cashier terminals, everyday retailers would be unable to operate.
Similarly, our outdated voter registration, and voting systems could be replaced by computerized registration, and voting procedures to increase accuracy, defeat fraud, and modernize the democratic process. Creating an online voter registration process would encourage voter registration because it would be simpler. Today, Mr. And Mrs. Potential Voter must wait in long lines, and turn over their personal information to overworked clerks, who in turn must input the data. This potential for error would be eliminated if Mr. And Mrs. P. could register online at home, of in libraries, or at kiosks installed in public buildings. The database of information would have to be reviewed and maintained to prevent potential fraud, but this is already an ongoing procedure within the current system. Prior to election day, instead of printing put hard copies to be manually delivered by expensive couriers, the voter registration database could be checked against county and state death certificates to route out voter fraud. This database could be checked against government social security records in order to identify potential irregularities. All these steps would make each election safer, and more accurate.
On election day, Mr. Voter could vote via computer terminals located at the voting center. Instead of the cumbersome, and costly method of looking up a persons name, and voter registration information on hard copies, these steps would all be automatically processed. By restricting the vote recording process to the polling center, tight control over point-of-entry fraud could be maintained. Over time, as confidence in this system was earned, Mr. Voter could be allowed to vote from any internet-enabled computer. This would require enhanced firewall control, and additional security protocols to prevent against unauthorized hacking of the system. By keeping these transactions in central locations, the process would be a controllable loop, built on a system that is not accessible to fraudulent outside influences.
As each vote is cast, it would be electronically encrypted, and sent to the state's election verification board. This data could also be additionally recorded on a server at the polling center, and delivered via disk to the state board. Through this method, the results could be validated again, as a test that it was not tampered with during transmission.
Another advantage to this system would be that each voter who did not participate would already be identified. Public campaign organizations that work to encourage voter turnout would pay well for this information so their political campaigns could target these voters.
The new key players in this system are those who monitor, and maintain the voter registration database. There would need to be a team of computer techs on hand at each polling center. The pool of voters remains consistent, as do the referees, and others who volunteer at the polling center.
The success of this system would be measured on three levels.
Increases in the number of registered voters because of the ease of registration, and excitement of voting via an up-to-date system could be immediately measured.
Increased numbers of actual voters, and improvement in the length of time the voting process requires would be measured at each polling center.
Increases in the speed at which an election was tabulated would be instantly known.
This system also would take a significant capitol investment. If commercial avenues were pursued with the voter registration, activity, and turnout databases, success could also be defined and measured in terms of the ability of the commercial venture to recover the investment expense.
The most important question would be how can this system be built, and put into use without damaging the validity and accuracy of the existing voting system. Given recent results in Florida, it seems that the existing system is currently operating with significant validity questions. But the procedure to phase into this system would be to select a number of polling centers across the nation that represented a cross section of the nations populace. Set up this system on a closed arcdhetechture LAN contained completely within the polling center. When the manually collected votes were collected, the online results could be compared to the existing system. Voter feedback could be collected as to the online voting's ease of use, unexpected snafu's, and suggested changes. In this manner, the new system would not interfere in any way until a complete change over could be introduced one polling center at a time.
The following is a context diagram of the overall existing voter registration, and voting process.
Voter: Any citizen legally registered to vote
Voter Registration Database: The collection of individual voter identification that validates his or her identity, and elegibility to vote.
Referee, or Volunteer: Person or persons volunteering at a polling center to verify the voters identity, and process ballots.
Database of Cast votes: Summary of information of individually cast votes
Alternatives and Analyses
The advantages of the existing system are anchored to this fact: The existing system was designed to be deliberately cumbersome. The hard copies of voter databases, and the system of manually looking up and verifying each voter's registeration data is a system into which it is difficult to introduce voter fraud. Also, many, if not most of the volunteers and referees are elderly, and retired citizens. The existing system is based on manual procedures, and not electronis and computer equipment. This slow system for verifying voter information is a system that will not be outside the abilities for the volunteers.
The major disadvantages of the existing system are that while it is manually accurate, lines at a polling center can be lengthy. Modern citizens are pressed for time, and may avoid voting because of the time involved. A streamlined system for the populace would tend to increase voter turnout. Advantages referenced above also include increased levels of information that could be instantly obtained from an active voter database, as to the demographics of the voting public, and those who choose not to vote, etc.
Another drawback to this exsting system is that in a manual system, there are increased opportunity for error. We may never know the genesis of the Florida 2000 election controversy, but had this system been computerized, with pictures of candidates, there would have been no room for confusion on the part of the voting populace. The controversy continues over hanging, and dimpled 'chads'and other partially marked ballots. When the 'Voter-matics' voting machines were designed, they were designed to be fool proof, yet some enterprising individual found a way to complicate the process. An online process for casting, recording, and tabulating votes would eliminate the high probability of error that exists in a process that is governed by men and women. People are not perfect, and the human factor could be greatly removed from this equation.
The path to change this antiquated voting system is that of employing the internet to automate many of the manual, and repetative tasks involved in the voting process. Online voter registration could…