Possibilities and Perils of Voting in An Electronic Age

Curator's Note

With the election just passed, as happy or unhappy campers, we forge forward as our newly elected representatives strive to govern responsibly. But this clip makes me wonder… Are these "winners" really the representatives we elected or are the threats posed by voting fraud, electronic voting, and computer hacking challenging one of our most basic freedoms – the right to vote.

I am proud to be a University of Michigan graduate and pleased as punch to know that a group of bright, talented, and energetic students could so easily “pick the lock” on electronic voting, but I am not sure I want them to cast my vote.

Hacking is but one of the many perils encountered in the Digital Age. In response to the advent and unveiling of electronic voting machines, early concerns were raised about potential technological shortcomings. Ongoing concerns about the usability of electronic voting machines persist, particularly in connection with questions about user skill divides – whether voters are able to accurately register intended vote when voting through electronic interfaces that they may not be familiar with or do not feel comfortable operating.

In research I assisted with while working on my doctorate in Communication Studies at the U of M, we looked at how voters interacted with electronic voting machines and observed that the correspondence between a voter’s intended vote and a voter’s registered vote was not always a perfect match. Rather, the outcome often depended upon the type of voting interface and the voter’s ability to interact with that interface. Some interfaces were not as user friendly as others and some machines left some participants struggling to cast their votes, which increased the likelihood of casting incomplete or invalid ballots.

While I suspect more direct forms of voting fraud have existed since the first one of us was voted off the island, one need only look to the Bush/Gore presidential election to wonder how a few chads may have changed history. Many of you will remember the 2000 election and the subsequent Diebold fiascos of 2004 and 2008. This catchy video parody may ring a bell, while this video of Princeton researchers may make you cry. All joking aside, however, controversial electronic voting machines are still used in many states, including my current home of Georgia, where debates over auditing and verification of election returns continue.

Stepping away from real-life, real-time, real-ballots and into the realm of cyberspace voting, what are the challenges that we will face next?

I have my ideas, but I would really like to hear some of yours. So stand up and be counted and vote with your words by entering into a hopefully spirited discussion on this topic.


Ann Williams's picture

Discussion Questions

In order to help get our discussion started, here are some questions I’d like to get your reactions to:

~How can accuracy in voting be better insured?

~How can online voting methods be made more secure? And, how can user privacy be protected?

~What are the social benefits and costs to online voting?

~What are some of the threats and potential consequences of technological access divides, skills divides, and generational divides?

~As the electorate becomes increasingly aware of hacking issues, how will this influence public confidence in democratic processes and individuals’ willingness to participate in politics?

~If voting moves from locally defined geographic spaces into the infinite bounds of cyberspace, how could the global nature of cyberspace change communication processes? How could this transition, in turn, influence voting outcomes?

~What are some of the most significant advantages and disadvantages to online voting? Do the possibilities outweigh the perils?

Julia Reardin's picture

Propaganda within the American Voting System


This post offers an interesting analysis of electronic voting in the twenty first century that isn’t the first thought that comes to (my) mind. I agree that with the influx of digitizing platforms of political power, users that may be older or disadvantaged get overlooked while creating and anticipating the vote. But the thing that I am most aware of, is the propaganda that constitutes the American political arena. With the all powerful media, and the messages that are brought to us by this mass medium called Television, by way of the myths of American fear and culture by helping to bring a political to inspire votes through manipulation with a glossy image and powerful soundbyte.


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