More Americans Will Vote Online This Election. What Does This Mean?

Pilot projects in select states will allow overseas and military voters to cast their ballot by mobile app. Could this be the future of voting?

What is Happening:

Earlier this year, some voters in Delaware, New Jersey, and West Virginia voted online in primary and municipal elections if they met certain eligibility criteria, such as living overseas or their ability status. Pilot projects to offer online voting to similar demographics are underway in Utah, Oregon, and Colorado too. 

There are many barriers to voting from other countries, including ballot delivery and return. The fact that only 7% of eligible voters abroad cast ballots in 2016 is compelling evidence that the current system is failing to represent millions of Americans living overseas, including active American service members. 

West Virginia’s online voting app, which was used in the 2018 federal election, collected 144 votes across 31 countries. Participation is expected to increase with the advent of new apps, but will still represent a tiny sample of the electorate. 

Why it Matters:

Voter Suppression:

Gerrymandering and poorly-funded polling stations are tried-and-true voter suppression tactics. Now, Trump is bashing mail-in voting despite its existing use for absentee ballots, and has gone as far as suing Nevada over a law that would provide mail-in ballots to every registered voter in the state. This is an opportune time to shine a light on the failings of the American electoral system and consider reforms to expand access, including online voting. 

Voter Turnout

A recent survey showed that 49% of Americans support online voting. Considering voter turnout in 2016 was just over 55% and that primary elections can be as low as 10%, an online option could capture much more of the electorate, especially youth and people wary of in-person voting during the pandemic. 

What About Hacking and Fraud? 

There are a multitude of security concerns with an online voting system, especially if it's administered through individuals’ cell phones and tablets. With the exception of caucuses and conventions, voting is done through secret ballots that protect voter identity. Protecting this information on top of preventing fraud requires a sophisticated system. 

Still, Estonia shows online voting can be done. Approximately 44% of the Baltic nation’s electorate has voted online, known as i-voting. For security, the platform requires Estonians to sign on with their national ID cards or Mobile-ID that provides authentication and a legally binding digital signature with their vote.