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Screw Voter Fraud, Let’s Talk Internet Voting

People are busy. Private industry Understands that reality. It has responded with computerized customer service strategies that offer the consumer expanded service options. Service strategies are designed to function 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and they give the customer the power to proactively consume goods and services. Some examples are online banking and World Wide Web catalog sites which allow non-stop shopping in virtual malls.

If the past is any indicator, government customer service strategies will catch up to the private sector in five to ten years. We can quicken that pace by rethinking the election process and implementing online customer service delivery strategies that will make it easier for voters to consume election information and voter services.

Four high-volume services that election offices provide are voter registration, the vote-by-mail ballot request, campaign financial reporting and the dissemination of election results. Those services could be delivered online.

In most states, a person must be registered in order to vote. While registration has been made easier with the National Voter Registration Act (Motor Voter law), we should take the next step and allow people to register to vote online. There is no legitimate reason why registration forms couldn’t be printed on a home computer, signed and mailed to the Registrar’s Office. (In the near future they will be totally done online with digitized signatures). As the voter prints the voter registration form, a counting device would increment up one in the appropriate party field so the voter could immediately see the result of his/her registration.

Another important online service is the vote-by-mail ballot application. Currently citizens obtain a mail ballot after making a written request to the Registrar of Voters. This cyberstrategy would make a standard request form available online. Prospective voters would complete the form online and print it out. The printed form would be mailed to the Elections Office.

The availability of campaign financial reporting forms online along with instructions on how to complete the forms and answers to the most commonly asked campaign reporting questions would be a significant service for candidates, committees and officeholders who are required to file campaign financial disclosure reports. The required forms could be printed from a World Wide Web site and subsequently used for reporting purposes. If the jurisdiction required electronic filing then the appropriate software could be downloaded from the site and used by the preparer to electronically file the documents.

Complete election results would also be available online. Turnout data could be presented in a graphical way so it would be easily analyzed. Information could be broken down by neighborhoods, precincts and jurisdictions and it could be printed out as raw data and as graphs.

Many other voter services could be made available online. While the services listed above are only a starting point, they would have a significant impact because they are in high demand. The voter education component of the online voter site would enhance and complement those services.

Voter Education

Educating citizens is an important aspect of the online voter services site. Online voter education is a powerful tool and gives the voters control over their own education. It allows them to go online when it’s convenient and study the voter information they want.

A top priority of the online election educational strategy is to educate citizens about who their elected representatives are and what they do. To accomplish that goal, while online the citizen must be able to determine what political subdivisions they are a part of and who their elected officials are. Online job descriptions and the service offerings of a particular office could be provided.

One of the most publicized information sources in elections is the campaign finance report. This report lists the names and addresses of the people who give money to a candidate. It also shows how and where the candidate spent those funds. If all candidates submitted their receipt and expense information on a computer disk, the Registrar could easily make the information available online.

Getting voter information used to be passive. You opened up the sample ballot and read the information you were given. The Internet lets the voter interact with the content. Imagine the educational potential of an interactive electronic sample ballot loaded with video, sound clips, animation, graphics and text. Compare that approach to the sample ballots you have seen recently. Most sample ballots that I have come across are bureaucratic. They do not invite the reader to study the issues. In fact, they do the opposite.

Online sample ballots would include all the required information but they could also contain pictures of the candidates, speeches, press releases, issue papers and a wealth of related information. One important feature of the online sample ballot is that it would allow a voter to look up their exact voting location by inputting their residence address.

First-time voters would find helpful information online. Most first-time voters say they want to have an explanation of their voting options, specific instructions on each of the steps involved in getting to vote and they want to know what to expect at the polls.

Running for a public office, whether for Tax Collector, Congress or the local school board, can be a confusing and complicated process. Currently the only way to know what the rules are is to personally contact the Registrar of Voters and get a paper copy of the Candidates Guide. That resource contains the requirements, deadlines, and rules for becoming a qualified candidate for political office. This information, along with frequently asked questions, would be posted online so that all visitors could benefit from previously asked questions.

Online debates and forums are an integral part of the online voter services site and they play an important role in educating the voter. Imagine what the first online Presidential debate might be like? Online debates, between candidates from all levels of government, could take two basic approaches. One could happen in real time. The other approach would allow candidates to prepare position papers and answers to previously submitted questions.

In ancient Rome, the forum was a public square where people assembled and interacted. On the Internet online forums serve the same purpose. Online public forums would let the voters ask their direct and follow-up questions of the candidates. They would allow for a quality dialogue between voters and candidates so that voters could better understrand a candidate’s position on the issues.

Educating children about their responsibilities in a democracy is important for the future. With all the educational material available outlined above, teachers could use the online voter services site to take students on a cybertour of Democracy. Links to other sites like Thomas, state home pages, and related information could enhance the experience. Kids could play online democracy games, role play being a city council member for a day, learn about America’s history, and communicate with students in other parts of the world.

The educational function of the online voter site is a key strategy that seeks to encourage more citizens to participate and vote. Once engaged, however, citizens in a healthy democracy must be able to easily communicate with one another.

Reignite Citizen Activism

We must discover ways to reignite citizen activism. Good government depends on it! Putting the master voter file online might help us reach that goal because it would promote communications between citizens. While the privacy proponents will immediately oppose this idea, there is another important reason to complete this step.

Putting the voter file online will help level the playing field for modern campaigns. As it now stands, only the wealthy candidates and big-bucks political action groups get access to the voter file because of its high cost. This practice prohibits the grassroots activist from mobilizing citizens for a particular candidate or cause.

At the present, some states restrict access to the master voter file unless the intended use is for political, journalistic, scholastic or other authorized purposes. The online voter file could be set up to recognize these same restrictions and a balance could be struck between a citizen’s right to privacy and the need for public access.

To facilitate communications with voters, a space on the voter registration form should be provided for e-mail addresses. This strategy looks to the future when each of us has some type of electronic address. If this information were available and recorded now, the Registrar of Voters could communicate with voters electronically. If we wanted to make a bold futuristic change, boxes could be included on the voter registration form which would give the voter a choice between receiving election materials electronically or in primed format.

Finally, communications could be improved if all election officials had the capacity to send and receive e-mail. E-mail would allow a citizen to send a message to the Registrar’s Office at any time. And election officials could electronically communicate with their peers throughout the nation.

In short, the cyberstrategy implemented must ensure that communications can easily occur between voter and Registrar, Registrar and voter, voter and voter, and Registrar to Registrar. A successful online strategy will encourage grassroots citizen activism.

The number of citizens involved in governance is too low and many political contests go without a breadth of well-qualified candidates. We must change that situation.

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