TED Conversations

Melissa Seideman


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Is Internet Voting Inevitable?

How might the internet alter U.S. democratic institutions, including how Americans get information about and even vote for their public officials in general elections, has been the subject of much debate in recent months. Online voting is one of the most controversial aspects in this debate- a subject that began in March 2000 when the Arizona Democratic Party allowed for the first time remote Internet voting in its presidential primary race.

The prospect of being able to vote "in your pajamas," as its been described captured the imagination of political leaders, technology innovators, and voters around the world.

Is internet voting inevitable? Do you think people should be forced to assemble at polling places in order to cast their ballots? Is there benefits from entering the "public sphere?"

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    Oct 19 2013: I believe government should evolve as society does. In our era is only natural to apply our resources to meet the challenges we face. eComerce, eBanking, and virtually all other fields in our society have jumped to make use of the internet. It is a good infrastructure and can revolutionize politics. Internet already does much to share information (vital for a democracy), promote transparency in many issue; and voting should not be any different. I believe there is not just one way of making this change, but actually many good ways of achieving it. I personally think eVoting should be based on a open source secured platform. Transparency should one of the most if not the most important element to safeguard the integrity of the process.
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      Oct 21 2013: Thank you Jose for highlighting the fact that the Internet is already open source and that it is secure for banks. It would revolutionise democracy by making it more nibble (like flocks of fish or birds that are able to change direction at a moments notice to avoid pitfalls or retreat from overspendings or going to war on false pretenses). No matter what fear mongers say, I am sure manipulation of votes would be detected in open source software.
      And, William Clegg, well said. This is a letter I sent 3 times to the President, trying to get him to realise this approach, to no avail:"I know the times are tough.
      In tough times it is important not to miss the needle in the haystack, but this is the third same needle I have thrown you and I hope it floats up to you in time.
      1/ There are a lot of people that have been out of work for over the legal time restrictions that impede them from coming out with new Ideas due to their previous employment.

      2/ Companies are sitting on a lot more money(than the Government has and) than they know what to do with.

      3/ YOU could really STIMULATE this down economy the way America became inventive, by offering FREE Patent Registration for whatever you feel is more important (I say everything...)

      This would protect the cash strapped inventors from being robbed by Companies and those Companies would be clamoring to help get those good ideas to market and people would be ready for more efficient "Gadgets" and hence we would become more efficient. And for $800-$900 a Patent, what a deal...
      • Oct 24 2013: Well since democracy is a failure in all cases and it is inevitable it will fail here too why not make it even larger. The internet could destroy the world that way.
  • Oct 19 2013: How about internet governing completely? Get rid of congress and senate and have people make and vote on their own laws. How could anyone lobby that?
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    Oct 19 2013: I sure hope so!

    But for the US, not that big of a chance for it happening soon...
    But in Sweden (where I'm at) there's a snowball starting to roll with a party called Aktiv Demokrati (Active Democracy), We vote about any/everything and majority rules. You can choose a representative and/or vote directly on any question 24/7.

    So we use a form of Delegative democracy that's called Liquid democracy, Check to Youtube and/or Wiki to get a better understanding.

    Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fg0_Vhldz-8
    Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delegative_democracy
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      Oct 19 2013: Thanks so much for sharing the way you vote in Sweden. I really appreciate your story. Thanks for sharing more resources with the discussion.
    • Oct 24 2013: Yeah we noticed the new Democratic Socalism at work there. What is it now? Guarenteed $2,900. US dollars a month for all citizens.
      How many people did you have to rob for that Democracy?
      Democracy is only the very worst form of government ever dreamed up.
      MOB rules. Gotta love it when you are the minority and majority rules.
      What if the majority wanted Shria law?
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        Oct 25 2013: Morter where are you from? Just curious. You brought up some interesting points.
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        Oct 31 2013: Hey Morter,

        Yeah, the Swiss have an upcoming vote on that, sadly I'm not Swiss...

        I haven't robbed anyone...

        I think that the current forms of democracy that exist in most places are very flawed, but that the basic idea is solid, with a liquid democracy and internet voting there would be so many upsides to society compared to any other that I've examined... What form of government do you prefer?

        As I see it we have three basic choices on who rules whom.
        1. No one rules anything - Total freedom or total anarchy, call it what you will.
        2. Minority rule - It's basically what we have today, "we the people" don't really get our say in things... You're lucky minority doesn't rule because they want Sharia law and a whole other messed up stuff...
        3. Majority rule - The way it's presented to be but isn't.

        Can you name any examples of democracies with Sharia law?
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    Oct 17 2013: There is so much money and power involved, and the risk/reward is so great, that taking the step toward internet voting is only going to happen when those who control it feel they can make the switch and keep control.

    Security and accessibility are issues that can be overcome, but only when those in control want them to be overcome.

    Having said that, I do believe that we will see internet voting at some point in the future.
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      Oct 17 2013: I completely agree! Security and accessibility issues will be resolved over time, but until those who have been able to maintain control are either exposed more clearly or decide they can continue to do so in this new medium, it won't happen.
    • Oct 23 2013: I agree! The security concerns/issues can be overcome. At some point, we will have to evolve as technology advances.
  • Oct 17 2013: The greatest level of accessibility should always be afforded to anyone that wishes to participate in civil society. The scapegoat of security, or that laziness may spring from the ease of speaking one's mind, should not be used to filter the voices of any citizen.

    While there can be a benefit to entering the public sphere to vote, polling stations were created as a point of accessibility, not a public forum for information and discourse. The Supreme Court has consistently struck down any mechanism that would impair a citizen from voting. Internet voting awaits only viability. Our laboratories of democracy will be the proving grounds that pave the way toward a new level of accessibility for civic participation.
    • Oct 24 2013: Please show me a civil society on this planet!
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    Oct 16 2013: There are a couple problems with this concept. First, we obviously have issues with security. Until some of the more fundamental security issues are addressed I don't think internet voting is viable.

    Is internet voting inevitable? I want to say yes because it seems to follow the path of technological progression happening within our society. It may also be a good way to increase participation.

    I think there are some other factors to consider. Increased participation isn't indicative of an increase in voter awareness. I believe we have a lack of informed voters. Internet voting may just aggravate that issue.

    Internet voting may allow us to implement systems capable of educating voters as well. It would definitely be interesting. I just think there are a few obstacles that need some attention before internet voting is a reality.
  • Oct 29 2013: Voting for somebody to represent me seems like such an anachronism.
    Here in Washington state, we've been voting my mail-in ballot for years. A transition to online voting isn't a big stretch at all.
    However, after watching the virulent minority of the Tea Party hold my country hostage for two weeks, I'm thinking that Congress has no business making budgetary decision at all.
    Why can't I just tell the IRS where I want my tax dollars to go? That seems like the most democratic method.
  • Oct 27 2013: As technology continues to rapidly develop the possibility of Internet voting becomes inevitable. Though their are still flaws within the system the pros outweigh the cons if executed properly and could potentially be very beneficial for our political system, encouraging and or allowing more people to vote, with easier accessibility. Likewise, hackers and educating the people on the new technology that is required to vote may cause issues and take time. Overall I believe it will be a step in the right direction to increase voter turn out and therefore enhance our democratic system allowing the people's voice to be heard and represented through the government.
  • Oct 27 2013: Internet voting is inevitable. Our society always tends towards fastest and easiest. Though there are certain threats present in Internet voting, there are an equal amount of problems with ballot voting and we will never have a perfect system. It will open up the vote to a much wider population and the will of the people will be more accurately reflected.
  • Oct 27 2013: Some 200 plus years ago when American Representative Democracy was set up it was a revolutionary idea, but strangely did not involve a lot of popular voting - ie the President was still elected by Electors chosen by state legislatures, and Senators were likewise elected by state legislatures. House Representatives were elected by popular vote, but only propertied white men could vote. The point here is that everything starts somewhere, not unlike "training wheels on a child's bicycle", and progresses as society progresses.
    Judging on how far the internet has come in a mere 20 years of existence, I have no doubt that 200 years from now it will be a major factor in government. The Internet is the evolving "global brain", and it is inconceivable that government including internet voting will not be a part of it.
    Internet voting will start with low risk augmentations to the existing voting systems to get us on the learning curve.
    Once we get comfortable with the internet voting process, it will expand.
    As an example of a low risk entre' to internet voting governments could consider starting with "advisory" referendums. Also consider that in the US at any given time on any given issue numerous polling entities publicize the results of scientific polls statistically accurate to within +/- 3 percent. If there is overwhelming support shown in an "advisory" referendum, and polls corroborate this within their statistical margin of error, then the results of the "advisory" referendum have credibility. All that remains is a mechanism to hold representatives accountable to the voters rather than money'd special interests.
    At this point knee jerk libertarians scream tyranny of the majority, and I understand that. There are ways to minimize this in a well designed referendum and initiative system of government, and when done right this is preferable to tyranny by the big money dominated political elites. It is a big step toward political equality.
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      Oct 27 2013: Nicely presented Tom. Of course, by extrapolating your points a little further we should find that the politicians and the political parties they belong to disappearing and being replaced, possibly by people with real managerial abilities, namely employees that can be fired for incompetence and corruption unlike politicians. And there could well be different managers for different aspect of that governance, all with the responsibility of enacting the will of the people as decided by the online referendum system but with the power and authority for their governance remaining with the electorate.

      As indicated below in another response, I believe that municipal governance is the ideal place to begin the learning process you talk about. :)
    • Oct 29 2013: --Also consider that in the US at any given time on any given issue numerous polling entities publicize the results of scientific polls statistically accurate to within +/- 3 percent. If there is overwhelming support shown in an "advisory" referendum, and polls corroborate this within their statistical margin of error, then the results of the "advisory" referendum have credibility.--

      Actually with just that in mind. How can someone pull out a win when polls had them behind and it appeared they often could no fill a house party. I would trust a centralized vote more then trunks full of ballots any day.
  • Oct 27 2013: I think that as technology continues to advance from the point that it is already at, voting on the internet is inevitable. It has it's difficulties and problems that have to be kept in mind but I think it's the next logical step for the U.S. Even if it doesn't replace manual voting, it would become another option for people to vote more easily. It would help to increase voter turnout.
  • Oct 25 2013: Internet voting solves the problem of people having to work or vote on election day. It could be especially effective in areas of high population density, since lines can be very long at times. It is definitely more than just an "alternate choice." Although I have no sympathy for lazy people who don't vote, it might encourage more people who normally don't vote to vote.
    • Oct 27 2013: I agree with you about the people who do not really care or have a grasp on the issues voting because it is convenient. If electronic voting was on an application basis, meaning that you had to apply for it with reason ex: you work late on Election Day, do you think it would better represent the people? Do you have any reasonable doubt that electronic voting will be unjust due to hackers? Or do you think that the US would realistically be able to control the entire process?
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    Oct 25 2013: I believe the greatest advantage of online balloting is the empowerment of ordinary citizens to wrest control of their governing institutions from those with vested interests such as political parties and backroom dealmakers more commonly known as lobbyists.

    The obvious place to start online balloting is with municipal and local issues. This is where people are more like to have an interest and will more likely want a say. The smaller populations along with the relatively small number of issues that communities deal with each year provides an excellent vehicle for becoming proficient users of the process.

    Where I live local politics is often dominated by elected officials in the camp of local developers or boondoggle promoters seeking to foist their own interests on the community - just like in national elections - which invariably finds itself powerless to respond by the time we figure out what is going on.
  • Oct 24 2013: There are positives and negatives to internet voting. It would probably influence a better voting turnout but not everyone has a computer. Also not everyone is technologically savvy. Some people won't necessarily know how to vote online. But regardless of positives and negatives I think internet voting is inevitable because of such a high demand for everything to be online. Even things like college applications are preferred to be done online.
  • Oct 23 2013: Yes, some people are unable to get out of the house to vote or they are unwilling to wait a few hours just to vote. With the technology nowadays, it may soon become a thing.
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    Oct 19 2013: Of course online voting is an inevitable consequence of the popularity of social media. And all the ranting about security issues is nonsense. The financial community moves trillions of dollars around the planet every day using the Net and there is no group more paranoid that they might be hacked than those that deal with money.

    The greatest barrier to online voting will be the vested interests of the existing system and those who do not welcome change.

    But the greatest advantage of online voting will be the opportunity for voters to eventually be able to speak directly to any fiscal change. That is to say, Direct Democracy is becoming more and more popular every day and online balloting allows the electorate to first discuss and debate the pros and cons of any fiscal issue and then to vote on it themselves. In this way the authority for how our tax dollars are spent will reside squarely in the hands of the taxpayers rather than political parties and backroom deal makers who infest practically every level of government these days.

    A fundamental principle of the democratic process is that those being governed have direct input into that governance. Unfortunately the too easily corrupted representative system has been ignoring that basic fact for ages. Online balloting will finally empower those being governed to better direct that governance.
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    Oct 18 2013: In Australia we still use ballot papers and pencils and manual counting. Many people complain about how low tech it is and how potentially inaccurate it is. eg A whole box of votes was lost in our latest federal election, 1000 votes almost not counted. Then I point out that one hacker could change 100,000 votes in a couple of seconds over the internet, and paper and pencil doesn't look so bad.
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      Oct 19 2013: Thanks so much for sharing the way you vote in Austria. I really appreciate your opinion. Thanks for sharing
    • Oct 24 2013: Thanks for one of the few voices of reason here!
  • Oct 17 2013: Of course.
    Internet voting will be like everything else.
    Just another way to count votes.

    You won't even need pajamas, your cell phone
    computer will work in the shower too,

    Just soap up and vote.
    Of course, the downside to peeking tom's is
    that incarceration could be for 20 years.
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    Oct 16 2013: Thank you for participating my AP students will be participating in this debate and I love the idea of already have global collaboration of this topic. Thanks for making learning "real."

    Please let me know what state or country you are from (please reply to this post). My students are from New York and they will be participating in this discussion with a high school in Texas next week.
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      Oct 19 2013: In the U.K internet voting was suggested by the then Prime-Minister Tony Blair (in the general election of 2005, I think). But by this time he was so distrusted (especially after dragging us into the Iraq war despite 2 million people walking the streets in protest) that no one trusted him with the idea of internet voting. Even a paper vote is hard enough to ensure transparency. With internet voting it is virtually impossible - there are many points along the internet line that where the votes can be secretly changed by those in power, if they so wished.
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    Nov 13 2013: If you think it, it will come.
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    Nov 12 2013: It will become necessary. Biometrics will play an important role, and age will not be a determinate. As long as one can read, one can vote. If "Coco" can learn to read enough to respond with her own opinion, she should be able to vote as well. The current system is an epic fail as well as the corporate industrial complex.
  • Nov 12 2013: I believe that internet voting will eventually be a reality. The biggest issue in regards to internet voting is the security, however I can guarantee that 25 years ago if you asked someone if nearly everyone would have online banking and bill pay, they would have responded with the same security issue, however today I’m not sure that I know anyone that does not participate in online banking. I believe that if banking can be done securely online, voting can be done securely online, and since one major issue in regards to voting is turn out, yet most people are online every day, I would imagine that voter turn out would be significantly increased by allowing voting to be conducted online.
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    Nov 12 2013: I think that electronic vote, is more valuable and valid than ever.
    To vote in PIjamas, not only for political matters, but for social stuff, like, streets, new buildings, health benefits, abortion, etc, would be good for the progress of society.
    Of course, that is counting with certain level of preparation and literacy, which may not be easy to average or measure.
    So, at the end, it would not matter the level of the society, since in it´s own principle, contemplates the disparity of opinions, literacy, knowledge and focus.
    Thanks Melissa...
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    Nov 11 2013: to me NO! well internet is almost everything to me and i am really happy with it!
  • Nov 8 2013: No. However, "non-precinct" voting may be, once identification bugs get worked out. Of course, either method will require proper identification for all voters...
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    Nov 8 2013: Short answer - probably; however just because we may at some point in the not too distant future be able to vote via the internet, it doesn't automatically follow that more people will vote.

    It seems to me that the reasons why, especially in the UK and USA, that voting turn outs are so low, and falling is that the wider population is disenfranchised from the political system.

    Politicians irrespective of their political bias, increasingly seem to have less and less in common with the people that they are supposed to be representing and defending. Their decision making processes are "short-term" and designed to get them re-elected and often have very little to do with the national "greater good".

    Until such time as the political elite and ruling classes get their act together and show them selves through their conduct as being deserving of our vote, I think fewer and fewer people will exercise their right to vote, no matter how easy the voting process may become.
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    Nov 2 2013: With the internet as it exists today, I hope not. The attack surfaces for the democratic process would be numerous and incredible.

    To be fair, voting machines come with their share of bugs and backdoors. For anyone who's interested, security professionals gave a presentation at DefCon after their investigation of Diebold voting machines - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tpoYDuGtD1o
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    Oct 31 2013: I choose not to vote on the issue of internet voting
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    Oct 30 2013: Melissa, Could you give a brief summary of how this went and suggestions to others who may like to follow in a class project. Also how did the interface with Texas go.

    Thanks, Bob.
  • MR T

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    Oct 29 2013: I'd doubt it. No computer system is secure. Imagine the havoc hackers could wreak. People could control governments through a single computer. Any country that did this would be leaving themselves open to corruption and terrorism. Things like this should stay physical.
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      Oct 30 2013: Today’s lotteries are done by computers and they have complex security with backward traceable threading because when it comes to money no one wants that stuff lost. Financial threading is a technique of having multiple paths through the data each vindicating that it’s been accounted for.

      For example if you were to send your vote to the voting precinct it would assign you the next number let’s say you were 703rd person to vote then this number would be sent to the candidate-A which would mark you as the 43rd person that voted for her then both numbers would be sent back to you. Forever connecting 703 vote with the 43 vote for candidate-A. Some other person would get into those queues and get the subsequent numbers. The candidate is going to know how many votes they have received (as they happen) because they have doled out the numbers. The precinct is going to know how many numbers it has doled out as well. This is a very simplistic view but at least it demonstrates that it’s hard to modify the sequential numbers especially when these numbers have also been sent to the state and perhaps even higher where they can attach accountable numbering as well. So every level is aware of every number being doled out (inter joined) and in fact every step can be back traced in actual order it took place. The only technical problem left is to verify that you are the person about to vote.