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Why Mobile Voting is the Best Way Forward for Democracy

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The way we vote is changing – and not for the better. Voting practices in the United States are outdated and account for low numbers of voters turning out for elections. Incidents in the last few years involving tampering with elections and voting – the U.K.’s 2016 Brexit referendum, the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, and the 2017 French Presidential election – have left a lingering sense of voter insecurity. People are worried that their vote won’t count, or won’t be private. The 2020 coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated these worries further. Concerns about showing up to crowded polling stations might deter many from voting altogether. Without a radical change to the way we vote, these problems will only get worse.

The tensions around voting have sparked a new interest in mobile voting. Several constituencies in the U.S. have successfully used mobile applications in their elections and experts wonder if – and when – we can scale this technology up to a national level. While concerns over security and access to mobile voting are valid, the benefits of voting applications are beginning to outweigh the risks. To move democracy forward, it’s time to look critically at traditional voting systems and ask if mobile voting is a better solution.

Improve Voter Turnout

One of the biggest benefits of mobile voting is the potential for increased voter turnout. Getting to polling places or filling out mail-in ballots have logistical obstacles that are difficult for some to overcome. The more people who vote the more robust a democracy is. The government that’s elected by a larger number of people is a more accurate representation of those it serves.

Overseas Voters – Many countries, including the U.S., allow citizens and military personnel to cast votes in domestic elections even if they’re living overseas. Mobile voting applications would make it easier for these populations to vote.

Younger Voters – Mobile voting might also encourage young people to vote. Members of Gen Z are becoming old enough to vote, and they spend an average of five hours per day on their smartphones. Twenty-five percent of Millennials spend five hours a day on their phones as well. These younger generations are familiar with using mobile applications for everyday tasks, from banking and shopping to communicating with loved ones. Voting by mobile app would feel intuitive for Gen Z and Millennials, potentially increasing their turnout at elections.

Elderly Voters – Just as mobile voting can boost numbers of young people casting ballots, so too can it help more elderly people vote. Some senior citizens can’t get around on their own easily, so making it to a polling station isn’t feasible. In the middle of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, elderly folks were also an at-risk population. Many seniors might hesitate to go to a crowded voting station for this reason.

Disabled Voters – Disabled people who have trouble getting to polling places in person can benefit from mobile voting. These apps can also be configured to work with mobile devices that accommodate people with disabilities, such as blindness or deafness.

Suppressed Voters – Attempts to keep people from voting are well-documented in the U.S. While many of these methods revolve around voter registration, others concern casting a ballot on election day. Delays and the closing of polling places discourage people from voting. Mobile voting can help curb attempts to keep certain groups from participating in elections.

Voting Systems Need an Update

Better voter turnout isn’t the only way mobile voting can elevate democracy. At the 2019 Defcon Voting Village, participants found decades-old vulnerabilities in several models of voting machines used in over 26 states. An update to voting systems can also bring the logistics of elections into the modern age. With voting machines or handwritten ballots, voting takes a long time. The system in place isn’t foolproof – for casting a vote or counting them up. Mobile voting systems would streamline and secure this process by eliminating waiting in lines or losing ballots in the mail.

Less Room for Error

Mobile voting naysayers are worried about the security of voting over the Internet. The elections that have taken place so far with mobile voting applications, such as Voatz and Democracy Live, haven’t had security issues. These elections weren’t national ones, involving millions of people, but the results are still promising. A mobile voting pilot program in West Virginia with the app Voatz showed a high rate of engagement and collected ballots from over 30 countries.

Apps that use blockchain technology can also verify a voter’s identity, while keeping their vote anonymous. Remote voting also puts less pressure on polling stations, which almost exclusively run with the help of volunteers. An understaffed voting place can become a logistical nightmare, especially in 2020, during a public health crisis. Compared to faulty voting machines and possible human errors, mobile voting is much more accurate.

Centralized Voting

It’s left up to states and individual counties how they collect and count votes. Counties can choose their preferred method based on budget, practicality, and access. While the freedom to conduct elections how they want might work well for local or even statewide elections, this patchwork voting system leaves gaps and inaccuracies at the national level. Voting by mobile app could bring all these systems onto a unified platform, speeding up vote counting and making it more reliable.

Mobile voting has become more common, but it’s not catching on fast enough. To revitalize our democracy, we need a big change, soon. Mobile voting has the potential to change the face of civic participation and usher in a new era of e-democracy that’s available to all.

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