Vote by email in New Jersey
November 5, 2012  

Tomorrow is election day, and New Jersey residents will be able to vote by email!

The usual suspects have already chimed in about the many security nightmares that could result, but I, for one, am completely enthusiastic. My only regret is that I have already submitted my New Jersey ballot by mail (as I do for every election), so I won’t be able to try it out myself.

I think email voting is a good idea not because I think that it is secure, but because I think that our current voting system is highly insecure, is being actively exploited, and email voting can address its principal demonstrated security vulnerability.

Democracy is the “rule of the people.” Therefore, the first goal of a democracy is to determine the will of the people. The United States of America has failed in this goal: voter turnout in 2008, an exceptional year, was only 62%, and in most of the past 40 years it has been well below 60%. In other words, the number of unmeasured votes in the current system is far above the threshhold for swinging an election.

The fact that we do such a poor job of measuring the will of the people is by design. If 100% of eligible voters turn out tomorrow to vote, the system will be overwhelmed—we are counting on low turnout. Furthermore, in America we have a long history of voter supression, going back to the nation’s founding. Some obvious examples are poll taxes, and denying women the right to vote. Less obviously we have the Electoral College (my vote for President in New Jersey is worthless while a vote in Ohio is precious indeed), onerous voter ID requirements, voting on a workday instead of a weekend, and restricted voting locations and hours.

Voting by email makes it easier to vote and should increase voting, therefore I support it. Of course, it has major legal and security vulnerabilities. But those vulnerabilities have to be weighed against the vulnerabilities of the current system, which we know have been exploited to prevent more than a third of all possible votes from being collected at all.

Voting by email is not my ideal solution. A traditional voting system with compulsory voting as in Australia would address the problem without introducing new vulnerabilities. Voting only by (physical) mail as in Oregon is a less radical solution that also makes voting easier. But in any case, our current voting system is disastrous. Change, honestly undertaken, is better than the status quo.