An excuse to talk about voting – thank you America

US election night the final showdown between Obama and Mitt. The sights of millions queuing to make their voices heard. The tired blurry eyed watching of the states change to the blue and red with stats about seats running down the side of the map. An excuse to see how many states you can name, to break out awful impressions and to sigh a sigh of relief that UK politics is not like that.

After all we don’t have any over the top MPs willing to lose respect (and party) going on reality shows.

What we do have in common with the US, is a very similar style of covering elections. The run up to the count, is its own exciting story as each party scrambles to gain votes more so than often making blunders and an occasionally an epic speech. Then we come to the day for the vote and the media has to make do with literally just watching us vote. Till the bell tolls and the polling booths close. Then the real excitement and political commentary can begin. Results and we get to colour in the map – Yay!

I can imagine reporting on this would be a lot like watching the queues at Sainsburys. You can spot the fluctuations and low points but ultimately you are just watching people do the same thing over and over again. The killer story is if the queues are long. Even better if there is a chance people might lose their vote (aka Manchester Withington 2010).

Naturally then we the get the media questiong why are the queues so long? What is our vote worth,  can easily be heckled alongside how much is being spent on this election and why aren’t more people voting. There is a level of pragmatism to the worth of our vote. From voter information drives to ultimately staffing the polling booths the costs to run an election mount up.

It is then not a big jump to ask (like the BBC) why we are not voting online and cutting down the queues? Voting for a 21st century. Would this not be cheaper and easier – soon everyone will have smart phones? After it all it works for “I’m a Celebrity get me out of here”. Sadly it is not that simple nor are the argument surrounding online voting.

As it happens I am for online voting but also conflicted and a bit wary. Security is an issue that has to be weighed up against how we like our data used. Then of course we need to trust anonymity and the integrity of our vote. A withering look from nearby friends as I click on my vote or fraping* prone friend logged into my computer could make all the difference.

The costs to introduce online voting are likely high (maybe not baby killing high ht @no2av) for what may only marginally increase participation.But then I am wary of taking a cost benefit analysis of the costs of online voting on their own. Ideally we shouldn’t set a limit for investing both culturally and financially in voter participation. The real issue is less about whether you vote in the polling booth, by post or at your computer. It is about why you should want to vote in the first place.

Blue skynet thinking I’d have it all magically secure online voting, 24 hour polling booths on every street, roaming polling booths. I’d have a voter information campaign drive to match McDonalds marketing campaigns. I’d have politicians that valued my vote.

Participation isn’t just down to a good marketing campaign for voting. Too cynical we want more than a small fanfare election campaign once every five years but expect less. And that is where we lose the reason and value in voting.

Why not make polling day a statutory holiday? Also why not lollies for all voters? Positive reinforcement for something we don’t like to do but know on some level it makes a difference.

*I wish I could think of better word for this right now!

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4 thoughts on “An excuse to talk about voting – thank you America

  1. When e-voting was all the rage as an idea in about 2002 I remember someone with a lot of knowledge of such things saying that it would not be impossible to design a secure on-line voting system but it would be the only time such a secure system had been designed.

    The big issue with e-voting/online voting is the inability to check anything. I’ve been at elections where the figures didn’t quite make sense. You could then challenge them – through the courts if need be and get the papers recounted so you were certain what the result should be.

    If it’s all electronic and there is a bug in the system (whether malicious or not) so say every 100th vote isn’t counted properly there would be no way you could ever “recount” the papers to work out what went wrong.

  2. Just copy the way they do voting on those popularity TV shows??

    Seriously however, true digital voting wont work until the all the current politicians have been replaced with more computer literate ones, who have a bit more digital sense. Its never likely to work in an era of failed NHS databases and identity card schemes that are ill thought out and poorly implemented.

    Perhaps in a future of IP6 we can register our device ID to vote with, and then vote by emailing our choice to the voting mailbox. If your choice was encrypted within the email with standard public/private key sharing it would prevent eavesdropping on the selection, but the email mechanism would ensure that proven technology was used for the transmission. So a recount would be possible for instance, independently verifiable – the SMTP server logs could be queried.

    My 2cents

    O! Ba! Ma!

  3. I believe in America the system has been identified as vulnerable to computer hacking anyway. I can see the argument for having paper ballots for recount purposes being more secure, but I think continued trials are worth it. There are ways to improve security for online systems, such as the authenticator system World of Warcraft uses (which some banks are now copying). They’ll never be perfectly secure, but if studies showed they would increase participation, it’d be worth it.

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