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AZ Tech Beat | July 27, 2017

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Will voting and technology ever marry?

Will voting and technology ever marry?
Chloe Nordquist

In today’s tech-centric world, it’s hard to believe that the current voting system is archaic as it is. The process of voting can take over 30 minutes and requires interaction with two to four different people. While Arizona was the first state to have an Internet election back in 2000 for the Democratic Primary, some of the issues that existed back then still exist today.

“We want to make sure that if we were to move to e-mail voting that there would be certified equipment that is secure and not vulnerable to any hackers out there,” Daniel Ruiz II, Director of Communications and Public Affairs at Maricopa County Recorder’s Office, said. “Voting is very important and we want to make sure there’s integrity in all our equipment and the way the process is conducted.”

In Maricopa County you have to vote at your polling precinct in order for it to count, unless you sign up for early voting. Early voting is the most common way people in Phoenix cast their ballots, with 88 to 96 percent of ballots cast by early ballot in the last three citywide elections, according to the City of Phoenix website.

The county has improved their system to a certain extent to make it easier, with touchscreens and accessibility for disabled users, but to completely replace existing equipment at all 749 precincts would cost at least 20 million dollars, according to Ruiz.

Electronic voting concept word cloud background

 

“In 2014, we implemented electronic poll books at every one of our 749 voting precincts. The electronic poll books replaced the old signature roster and poll books,” Ruiz said.

With these technology advancements, politicians and the county voting system will be able to appeal more to Millennials, who are used to instant gratification.

Switzerland, France, and Estonia are a few countries in Europe that currently have Internet voting, however elections in the U.S. are so fragmented, sometimes down to the village level, that it could become very complicated to deal with, according to Susan Dzieduszycka-Suinat, President and CEO of the U.S. and Overseas Vote Foundation.

“The ability to implement high level technology that require the more sophisticated security imaginable does not exist yet down on those small, granular levels of election,” Dzieduszycka-Suinat said.

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Voting analysts and researchers have been looking in to an end-to-end or “E2E” verification system, which will allow voters to vote over the Internet or via e-mail.

Currently the only way to vote electronically is if you are military or overseas. These citizens are e-mailed a ballot. They then have to print it out, sign it, and send it back via email.

“The challenges in the areas of usability, the end-to-end is a process, it adds steps to the voting process people are not familiar with,” Dzieduszycka-Suinat said.

Not only would it be a new system to learn, but there are many troubleshoots that Dzieduszycka-Suinat and the rest of the U.S. Vote Foundation has addressed in their report on the future of voting. Authentication and encryption are two of the concerns.

“There are challenges in the security, making sure the ballots can’t be tampered with, making sure that people are who they say they are, making sure that the system is useable, all of that,” Dzieduszycka-Suinat said. She also mentioned the issue of verifying who you are, but then making sure your identity is private when you actually choose who to vote for online.

As far as engaging voters, early voting is still the most popular way to vote so that voters have the proper time and resources to make informed choices without having to wait in line on election day. However “not every state allows it,” Dzieduszycka-Suinat said. Only 28 states currently allow no-excuse absentee voting, Arizona being one of them.

For more news on software advancements, click here.