I read with interest the recent columns by Jay Evensen regarding the future of Internet voting in Utah. Evensen seemed to draw two conclusions in his argument: (1) Utah should not be concerned about reducing barriers to vote, and (2) electronic voting has inherent security risks that make it a difficult proposition.
I absolutely agree with his second point, but take issue with the first.
Some believe that potential voters must first run a marathon or climb Mount Timpanogos to prove their civic worthiness. By winnowing the field of potential voters, they argue, we will be left with only those who are truly capable of self-government. Evensen seems to agree. “Civic duty should require some effort,” he said. “Voting shouldn’t be a whim.”
Unfortunately, waiting in line to cast a ballot does not lead to a more informed citizenry any more than a two-hour trip to the DMV would somehow lead to safer drivers.
In fact, recent experience in Utah with vote-by-mail has shown the exact opposite to be true. Allowing citizens the convenience of having access to a ballot without immediately casting has given them additional time to research available choices. This is especially helpful in less prominent “down the ballot” races. Ask yourself the question: have you ever voted on a judicial retention election without knowing anything about the judge under question? Perhaps we are all a little guilty of not being as informed in our electoral decisions as we ought to be.
Thankfully, our state has a proud tradition of reducing barriers to vote. In 1869, without a single dissenting vote in the legislature, Utah (then a territory) was the second state in the nation to grant women the right to vote.
We continue to be pioneers into the present. In 1998, Utah became one of the first states to allow Internet voting for members of the military. These soldiers may not be able to show up at your local polling place on election day, but this certainly isn’t for a lack of effort. I am proud to call home a state that recognized the need to protect the precious voting rights of these men and women who risk everything so that we might have such freedoms.
During the recent 2014 session, the state legislature unanimously passed a bill to allow voters with disabilities to vote via the Internet. Depending on the disability, utilizing standard elections equipment in a polling booth can be difficult, if not impossible, for these voters. In some situations, the privacy of an individual’s ballot could be compromised. Meanwhile, that same disabled voter often has a home computer complete with all the hardware necessary to accommodate their disability. While only a pilot program, I am hopeful the legislation will lead to higher rates of voter participation among Utah’s disabled voters.
We complain about the federal government not counting our LDS missionaries (and subsequently not giving us an extra Congressional seat after the 2000 census), but do we as Utahns consider these residents as full-fledged citizens in our state? If so, we could make it less difficult for them to vote in our elections, the key expression of citizenship in a republic. The mail seldom arrives to a missionary in Nicaragua, but he can find access to the Internet on Monday to send an email home to family. Improved access to the ballot in such situations can lead to improved voter participation.
Evensen’s second point that electronic voting is fraught with multiple security concerns is absolutely correct and is my chief concern in undertaking this initiative.
Even one compromised ballot is unacceptable, and if we cannot successfully create a system free from security breaches, we must not risk the integrity of our election process.
The lieutenant governor’s iVote advisory committee has been tasked with exploring such concerns. Regardless of where you stand on the issue, almost universally, Americans agree that Internet voting will be part of our nation’s future. As a leader in voting innovation and one of the most tech-friendly states in the nation, Utah is the perfect place to have the discussion.
Jon Cox is a representative in the Utah Legislature House District 58.