Why not a futuristic election system
bryanw at TJSL.EDU
Wed Nov 15 20:45:11 PST 2000
Thanks to Jim Maule for so helpfully sketching out this proposed techno fix
and the possible constitutional issues raised. I have a stepbrother, Larry
Page, who happens to be CEO of Google.com, a popular Internet web-search
service (and another stepbrother who's also in that field). Based on things
they've told me in other contexts (I am a total non-expert in the field) I
think this is highly feasible, even today. The server demands may not even
be much of a challenge. Google's server handles millions of daily instant
searches of the entire contents of the Web, which Google downloads and
updates frequently in its databases. The choices of 200 million voters,
for, say, 20 offices and ballot propositions amounts to what, a few dozen
gigabytes of data at most? The standard laptop will soon be able to handle
that. The privacy and security concerns (or rather, simultaneously
preserving security/preventing fraud while maximizing privacy/anonymity of
the vote) would be the challenge, but I think the continuing development of
e-commerce and e-currency should spin off various methods and devices for
dealing with that.
Unless Jim Maule objects, I'd like to forward this to my brothers for their
comments. Let's get our cyber-geniuses to work!
Bryan Wildenthal, Thomas Jefferson School of Law
> -----Original Message-----
> From: James Maule [mailto:maule at LAW.VILLANOVA.EDU]
> Sent: Wednesday, November 15, 2000 2:26 PM
> To: CONLAWPROF at listserv.ucla.edu
> Subject: Why not a futuristic election system
> I think there are some interesting Con Law issues in this scenario:
> It is 2012. It is time to vote. It is November 1. Sometime
> between then and November 7, you can log onto www.voting.gov
> (from home, from a public library, from a kiosk, from a
> temporary setup in a firehouse, school, etc). The computer
> scans your retina. You get a log-on screen that says, "After
> the Government Shutdown Crisis of 2000, the Congress mandated
> that all elections occur through digital technology. Your
> retina will be scanned again, and to ensure against fraud,
> your fingerprint will be examined...." Then some disclaimers,
> perhaps, etc.
> Eventually, after scanning your fingerprint, the asp program
> checks to see if you are registered. If you are, it presents
> the title of an open office and the names of the candidates
> for that office in easy-to-read, nicely contrasted boxes (or
> uses some other interface for the visually disabled). There
> is a provision for write-in votes. After making a selection
> you are told what you selected and asked to confirm that
> choice. This is done twice. The process is repeated for each
> open office.
> When you are done, you are given a confirmation number which
> you can choose to print, email to yourself, or write down.
> You go home. At 9:00 a.m. EST on Nov 7, the program sends an
> email or a Fed Ex telegram (depending on the choice made by
> the registrant) to all registered voters who have not voted,
> giving them a reminder to vote. This could be repeated later
> in the day. (It also can ring their cell phones, jingle their
> beepers, etc).
> Near midnight, the results are posted on a web site (that
> will need a BIG server). No exit polls (impossible to get a
> fair sampling because so few are at any one place... cf. the
> Oregon everyone votes by mail system designed to thwart exit
> polls). No waiting for absentee ballots to arrive by Pony
> Express. No paper ballots. No chads (unless someone invents a
> cute way to have the acronym for the new system to be CHAD
> (Citizens Have Answer Device?)
> The issues (aside from technology and security concerns and
> the extent to which the resolution of these and the following
> issues affect citizen willingness to vote this way):
> Can Congress mandate this? (An issue for which discussion is,
> in a sense, underway).
> Is there a violation of privacy rights? Imagine, an instant
> database owned by the government telling us who voted for
> whom. Is this permissible? In other words, is there a right
> to a secret ballot?
> Are the accessibility issues any different from those that
> now exist or does this reduce the number of instances in
> which someone would find "getting to the polling place" to be
> a challenge?
> Are there due process concerns lurking in this?
> I may be somewhat off the mark, but I don't think I'm out in
> left field. I think the current situation will encourage
> efforts to put in place something like what I have described.
> I've tried to give a general picture without being too detailed.
> p.s., feel free to use this as an exam question if you can
> make it work.
> Jim Maule
> Professor of Law
> Villanova University School of Law
> Villanova PA 19085
> maule at law.villanova.edu
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