Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Elections at the Speed of Life

Aside from the incredible busyness of elections, I've been leading a couple of graduate courses at Baker University.

I'm teaching two on-ground and one online.

Last night, a student in Topeka asked a very understandable question:

"Why can't we vote electronically?"

Electronically, in this context, meant from a computer, on the Internet.

I ran by the whole Election Assistance Commission, certification, Help America Vote Act, and all kinds of other data points from the last decade.

And then I said the obvious:

"The election industry doesn't travel at the speed of life."

That's not a bad thing.  But, for instance, we have oversized palm pilots for voting machines.

The industry does its part to ensure that the postal service has plenty of mail to deliver 6 days a week.

And yet, it's getting harder to say, with a straight face, why Internet voting isn't even a gleam in the eye.

I asked all of the students about voting online.

"Why not, we pay bills on line?" they said.

People take their voting rights seriously, but in my informal surveys over the year, they are more protective of their money than they are their city council vote.

The students quickly brought up all kinds of data breaches--Target and Home Depot, for instance (this is an MBA class, after all, and they were all business).

But in my own business days, I encountered a guy who worked with me on a particular sales account at Sprint.  He used a phrase all of the time, "the red-faced test," which, best I could tell, meant an answer he wasn't embarrassed to tell.

Pricing or delivery times for new products had to pass the red-faced test, for instance.

In the election world, I think we need to take the same red-faced-test approach with online voting, or at least online ballot marking, where the ballot is prepared and stored to be taken to a polling place.

At some point, giving answers like I gave last night, to smart MBA students, will discredit me as an instructor.  

Imagine if that happens in an online course.

At least it wouldn't be a fail of a red-faced-test because they wouldn't see me. In such a case, maybe it would be a white-knuckle test.

Either way, it's becoming more of an odd question to answer outside of the election industry.  Life moves electronically, over the Internet specifically.

Explaining why voting electronically is scary is a bit like denouncing that gravity is real or that puppies are cute.

At the very least, as we look at new voting systems, whether they be part of a device a person owns or use a device at a polling place, there seems to be growing acceptance of ballot-marking systems.  In some cases, users can beam their pre-populated ballot to a terminal that calls it up on screen for review before being cast.

This is true innovation in the election world, but a yawner in the real world.  Still, it's movement, maybe not at the speed of life but certainly movement that may give life to voting electronically.