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Our View: Internet vote would be best for democracy

Posted: July 22, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: July 22, 2012 2:00 a.m.
 

The California June election results were abysmal for a free and democratic society.

The June elections marked the second lowest voter turnout for any statewide election in California.

Only 31 percent of all eligible voters cast ballots, according to records released by the state secretary of state’s office.

The lowest recorded turnout in state history occurred in June 2008, when only 28 percent of all eligible voters exercised their right to participate in the democratic process.

Some may argue low turnout equals voter apathy. We would, in part, agree. But we think there’s another issue at stake — ease of voter access.

In a digital age, when trillions of dollars change hands via Internet commerce transactions, consumers sign their names on electronic pads to make credit or debit card purchases, and banking has evolved to the point where one can deposit money in a bank account by sending a photo of a check from a smartphone, why are we still driving to the polls?

Vote by mail is a move in the right direction, and we note it’s been embraced both locally and statewide. Of those who did participate in June’s primary election, 65 percent voted by mail.

State and federal laws require equal access to the voting process. And so while we do not propose eliminating polling stations altogether, we do urge policy makers to expand and encourage alternative voting options — including developing Internet voting capabilities in California.

As far back as 2000, a California Internet Voting Task Force feasibility study concluded: “It is technologically possible to utilize the Internet to develop an additional method of voting that would be at least as secure from vote tampering as the current absentee ballot process in California.”

And of course, that’s the key: protecting the voting process from tampering.

We believe the 12-year-old findings need to be explored to offer maximum voter engagement.

Voter turnout reached a peak of 65 percent in 1960 and has dwindled ever since. Two population groups that tend to vote less, according to the 2000 study — busy professionals and students 18 to 25 years old – would be most likely to become engaged again with an Internet voting option, as they also represent the most technically savvy segment of voters.

“If the impact of the Internet on elections is roughly similar to the impact the Internet has had on commerce, then the results would indeed be staggering,” the 2000 report said. And while it was issued before the dot-com collapse that began March 2000, there’s no denying Internet commerce is thriving in 2012.

We realize it will cost money to revamp our existing voting system. Ensuring the system’s security is paramount.

But we note that during the 12 years since the Internet Voting Task Force issued its findings, Internet security has made great strides.

And we believe the payoffs in the long run would be worth it: ease of participating in the democratic process would result in increased voter turnout.

And, the fact is, Internet voting offers the opportunity to reduce the cost of holding elections for budget-strapped state and local governments.

Elections cost counties and the state millions of dollars. Estimates place the cost of the 2003 special election to recall Gov. Gray Davis at $53 million to $66 million — with counties shouldering the largest expense.

As the price of postage continues to rise, Internet voting offers a more cost-effective method of casting ballots than does voting by mail.

With only 5,328,296 of the nearly 17.2 million registered voters in the state actually bothering to cast their June votes, and at today’s estimated election costs, each vote may very well cost state and local governments around $14,000 right now.

Let’s develop a smart way to reduce that cost.

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