It wasn’t just Donald Trump that was front and center in the latest US elections – it was voting technology. More correctly put, how technologies should or should not be incorporated into the balloting process. As the election had its highs and lows for Democrats and Republicans, it also had its moments – high, low, and bad — for the technology crowd.
Taking the high (technology) road
West Virginia was the first state to incorporate blockchain technology into a US election. The pilot program had just under 150 state residents living abroad in 29 countries casting their ballots with smartphones. The goal was to enable a large-scale and secure method for people to vote when jobs or military service require them to be out of the state. West Virginia — as with other states — has been trying to deal with the large numbers of people that request absentee ballots but subsequently fail to mail them back in. To roll out this system, they grabbed Voatz, a company with links to Overstock, an online retailer. What would John Denver have thought about this? XKCD has put their thoughts in writing.
Low-tech paper roars back
Low-tech paper ballots have made a sharp comeback in the ballot box. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, the proportions of paper versus digital have flipped in the past twelve years. Today, two-thirds of the electorate votes with paper and one-third with a electronic device. That said, the Center has pointed out that the lack of paper backups for the voter roll books are a continuing issue in many localities.
Bad tech remains in position (with a little help from some friends)
The reward for bad technology in the last election is awarded to Georgia Secretary of State and gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp. As Secretary of State, the election process is his responsibility. But when Mr. Kemp went to vote on Election Day, he first got a voter card that said “invalid.” The second card worked. Other places in the state had issues with inaccurate voting registration books, insufficient numbers of machines, and voting machines with dead batteries. His failure to efficiently roll out the election technology while keeping his fingers in the vote-counting process – even as he was on the ballot for state governor – even drew a rebuke from former US President Jimmy Carter.
The major rule to be learned from this: Backups are essential – for you, for your devices,and for people running elections — unless having a breakdown swings the vote in your direction.