A cornerstone of our democracy, voting, is considered a fundamental American right but, on average only a bit over half of U.S. citizens exercise this right. According to public statistics, over 138 million people voted in the 2016 presidential campaign – less than 60 percent of registered voters. In the pivotal 2018 November midterm elections only 49% of registered voters cast a ballot. In both cases, roughly 100 million people who could have voted, did not vote.
Considering the importance of voting, the statistics may cause many to scratch their heads wondering “why do so many people not vote?” A common reason is it is simply too difficult to find the time to get to and wait in line at a polling station. Often getting to the polling stations is not possible due to transportation, work schedules, childcare and other logistical hurdles of everyday life. And with nearly a thousand polling places having been shuttered across the country, it’s getting much harder to get to a nearby place to vote. Add to this the confusion of not being sure if you are officially registered to vote, where your designated polling station is, and even how to fill out the archaic paper ballots, and it becomes pretty clear that our voting process would benefit from a tech makeover.
One solution to many issues causing low voter turnout is to enable voters to view their registration status, register and even cast a ballot via smartphone. “Proponents of the idea view the technology as a way to get more people to the polls in spite of life circumstances such as work or emergencies which might otherwise prevent them from voting,” noted Daniel Golightly, senior staff writer, Android Headlines.
In October 2018 Metova commissioned a survey of over 1000 connected citizens to learn more about sentiment and possible effects of voting via smartphone. Notable findings from the survey include:
- Nearly 1/3 of total respondents are interested in voting via smartphone
- 67 percent of the people who did not vote in the last presidential election would have voted if they could have done so on their smartphone
- Of the people who said they would have voted by smartphone, 36 percent were Democrat, 19 percent Republican and 35 percent Independent
Projecting the findings from the survey, over 60 million additional votes could be counted in upcoming elections if citizens are able to cast a ballot via smartphone.
“Today it is common to perform tasks that require extreme security: banking, managing healthcare and even sending money via a smartphone,” said Jonathan Sasse, CMO at Metova. “Our data shows that once mobile voting is available, it will have a massive effect on election results. While Metova does not offer a voting solution, it is clear citizens do want a solution and we know that through proper use of existing and emerging technology, a viable, secure mobile voting solution is possible and will dramatically improve our democracy. Certainly there are challenges around enabling U.S. citizens to vote more easily, however this is not an insurmountable technology challenge – and it’s worth it.”
A common argument against smartphone voting centers around security. “Mobile voting is a horrific idea,” Joseph Lorenzo Hall, the chief technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology, told CNN. “It’s internet voting on people’s horribly secured devices, over our horrible networks, to servers that are very difficult to secure without a physical paper record of the vote.”
However the sensors found on modern smartphones can help to address security concerns. By using facilities such as GPS for voter location verification, fingerprint reader and facial recognition to confirm identity, and a touch screen for signature capture and verification, voting via smartphone can offer a viable, convenient alternative to traditional in-person voting. In addition by using emerging technologies such as blockchain, voter fraud and ballot tampering can be reigned in.
To add, the Defense Department is funding a project that could revolutionize the way we verify that people are who they say they are and it could be available in most commercial smartphones within two years. According to Steve Wallace, technical director at the Defense Information Systems Agency, the Pentagon is working on “technology, which will be embedded in smartphones’ hardware, [and] will analyze a variety of identifiers that are unique to an individual.”
From landing a spaceship on the moon, to nuclear power to Kilby and Noyce’s creation of the silicon computer chip, humankind has a long, storied history of unthinkable, creative use of technology to solve seemingly insurmountable challenges. Looking at our track record, it seems apparent that smartphone voting is not a case of “if”, but rather a case of “when.” As citizens increasingly live and participate in an ‘anywhere’ culture, adapting and overcoming obstacles will drastically empower the democratic notions that are the very foundation of the United States. In the example of smartphone voting, according to Metova’s survey, it could possibly change the outcome of who we elect as the president of the United States of America.