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Little v and big V: online voting

posted by:Marty // 04:55 PM // August 13, 2005 // Digital Democracy: law, policy and politics

E-voting – raise the word and we readily think (ok maybe just me) of voting with a big “V”, i.e. voting for government officials. However, taking a quick pause we can see some of the many other instances of e-voting:

  • The Dove Awards (Christian Music) are taking their balloting online, allowing the members of the Gospel Music Association to vote online
  • Countless online sites offer polls and "vote for your favourite ___" items
  • the New York City Firefighters Union has set up online voting for its members who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, and
  • A new sea lion born at a Six Flags had its name selected by online vote.
  • All of this to say that increasingly we are seeing these examples of, what I'll call, small "v" online voting - micro voting - where the issues are trivial to some, significant to others, but their results are not universal or pan-geographic (national, regional, municipal, etc.). Will our comfort with small v online voting make for a seamless transition to big V online voting (voting for our government officials)? Will familiarity with online voting encourage increase voter participation? Lastly, will voters take safety and reliability of online voting for granted?

    As an aside, I'm reminded of something that George Carlin once said. Let me paraphrase "If you don’t vote, you have no right to complain’, but where’s the logic in that? If you vote and you elect dishonest, incompetent people into office who screw everything up, you are responsible for what they have done. You caused the problem; you voted them in; you have no right to complain. I, on the other hand, who did not vote, who in fact did not even leave the house on election day, am in no way responsible for what these people have done and have every right to complain about the mess you created that I had nothing to do with"

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    Hi Marty,

    I did some research on e-voting this year and I found that the biggest hurdle to big V online voting is an observation made by Phil Agre in 1995: How do you prevent coercion? How do you prevent an employer from holding a 'voting' party where everyone gets a bonus if they vote for the company's preferred candidate? You can provide disincentives, such as stiff penalties. However, onsite voting is the only way to prevent this wide scale possibility.

    Let me know what you think,


    Posted by: Catherine Thompson at August 15, 2005 09:26 AM

    On-site voting with electronic devices is still subject to the same coercion problem - the needless requirement of a printout of your ballot (which you then turn in to the paymaster) actually aids and abets this type of fraud.

    Posted by: Dave Kearns at August 15, 2005 03:47 PM

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