Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Great American Spirit and Internet Voting

Election Attitude
John Patrick, Ph.D.

A Book Review

When asked about the possibilities for having Internet voting in the USA, Vint Cerf, one of the Founding Fathers of the Internet, declared to Dr. Patrick, “We can do this!”

Having an Election Attitude means believing that an election system should serve the needs of the people, our brothers and sisters, who use it.  This book applies the attitude of caring about people to an examination of the election system in the USA today. If you care about people, especially the American people, then you will be quite upset by an election system that forces voters to waste their time trekking to a distant polling place, taking buses, or fighting traffic and finding parking, only to have to wait in lines, which are sometimes very long, and where equipment problems lurk.

Even those who vote by mail can never be sure their ballots will be timely delivered by the USPS. Besides inconvenience and delivery concerns, there are other worries. Were all the millions of pieces of paper from both Post Office and polling place, that folks voted on, counted correctly, or counted at all?

As Mr. Cerf understands, if we can shop and bank online, then we CAN vote online.  Se si puede, as President Obama has often affirmed. Isn’t that The American Spirit?

This book shows how voting online can be made reality in American elections. Dr. Patrick has a Ph.D. in systems management. He was the VP of Internet Technology at IBM, with 35 years of experience in the field. He has written extensively about applying a pro-people attitude to the reform of systems. One example is his book on the US health care system (in which he criticizes, among other things, Obamacare).

Efficiency, reliability, and ease of use are some of the human needs that systems ought to satisfy. Amazon is an example of how this has been done. Consider the process of driving to a bookstore, traffic, parking, then scanning shelves for your title, then paying at the register, if the store has your book in stock. Compare that to tapping a few keys on your Smartphone, and having your book, or other item, delivered to your door. Amazon understands, respects, and satisfies human needs.

Dr. Patrick puts his expert knowledge to work to show his readers how our cumbersome antiquated 19th century voting system can be transformed into a 21st century secure and easy to use online process. This would not be done all at once, of course, but state by state and district by district, as the people demand it from their officials. Aware that the US Constitution gives authority over election administration to the states, and the states allocate that authority to their numerous local voting jurisdictions, Dr. Patrick envisions Internet voting systems emerging in every jurisdiction, offering online voting to their voters, but NOT connected to one another. Having hundreds of small, local systems, like the ones used in Norway or Estonia, would make hacking a national election on a national level impossible.  

We can vote on our PC, cell phone, or tablet, from anywhere, even out of the country, and any time during the election period. Blockchain technology is one of the examples Dr. Patrick explains as a way of making the devices voters use secure against spies and viruses. He has made a believer of me!

So, what’s the hold up? Here is where Dr. Patrick really does a service for his country. He exposes, and clearly shows, that for over a dozen years a small, well organized, well-funded group of anti-Internet voting pro-paper extremists have cleverly manipulated public opinion and forcefully intimidated federal, state, and local authorities so as to block even tiny trials of online voting. They use scary stories of what MIGHT or COULD happen with online voting. They cry, the Russian government, or a US teenager in his suburban bedroom, might or could control an election for the US President. (Maybe a hacker in Iran could elect an Ayatollah for US President!)

My, oh my! I guess we’d better not go that route. But wait! Dr. Patrick shows by historical fact that other countries have been using Internet voting for years, and NO election results have ever been shown to have been altered in any way by hackers.  Not one vote stolen or modified. (In 2014, 97 cities in Canada offered an Internet voting option. All with great success.)

One reason why online voting can be so secure is that its servers are only online for a short time – the election period. Business systems are more vulnerable because they are online 24/7/365. Hackers have time to probe for weak spots, or fool employees with trick emails that look innocent but have a link that, when clicked on, lets in the hackers. Online voting server software can have security programs that keep out spies and viruses. Security is doable.

But the well-funded extremists use the Absolute standard of Perfectly Safe Voting Systems. This is the kind of standard that would make any reasonable person afraid to get out of bed in the morning. Thus, they find all sorts of possibilities that MIGHT or COULD (but never have) go wrong.

So an Election Attitude also entails having the courage to go ahead with a Plan for Progress despite the hysteria created by the few well-funded nay-sayers. Dr. Patrick discusses several instances in which Chicken Little “experts” declared “it can’t be done!”  But stalwart pioneers persevered, and did it. One example is West Virginia Secretary of State, Natalie Tennant. She ran an online voting trial for her state’s overseas military. It went without a hitch. The voters loved it.

Besides electing officials to office, there are other benefits for those with the courage to Cyber the Vote. Imagine a weekly e-townhall meeting in every Congressional District. Constituents could conveniently interact with their representatives – even initiate and vote on proposed legislation to be introduced or voted on in Congress. Indeed, every elected office and public agency in the country could have such e-townhalls.

Presidential elections can be re-organized around Internet voting.  Imagine watching a series of debates online or on TV, and then Rank Choice Voting online; that is, rating each candidate, say 1-3, rather than one vote for one person. The least appealing candidate could be eliminated in the series until only two are left. A couple more debates and the final vote online. (I have written about this in detail.*)

Dr. Patrick mentions several possibilities he sees for the e-reform of our government – some are very interesting, some are kind of silly (like Chaum’s idea of government by polling people); some he didn’t see, but which are mentioned here.

In short, this little book shows how it can be done.  The primary obstacle is Not Technology, but the FEAR of Technology; a fear fueled by a small group of well-funded professional propagandists.  While Dr. Patrick believes that every objection deserves consideration before proceeding, sheer scary stories based on fantasy standards of perfection should not be allowed to cower a nation.  As FDR famously proclaimed, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Having an Election Attitude means having the pioneer’s courage to boldly move into the future, ready to work to realize our nation’s full potential for Democracy.

William J. Kelleher, Ph.D.
(On Kindle or in paper)

*For a detailed online presidential election organization plan, which would sharply sideline the power of Big Money, go here, and here.

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