Modern voting doesn’t feel all that modern to me

by | Nov 1, 2019 | Politics/Government

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Tuesday is Election Day in Indiana. Most of you already knew that. Some of you plan on voting. Too many of you could not care less.

I spend my professional time helping clients and others engage and participate in government. What does that mean? Most often it means debating the processes that revolve around different forms of regulation. Sometimes we are asking for more of it, and other times less. The projects I enjoy most though, are the ones where an innovative idea is the point of the discussion.

In the realm of elections, what are the innovative ideas that are being discussed today? Sadly, what occupies too much of the discussion in this space these days revolves around security. The infiltration of foreign influences in the 2016 election has yet again sidetracked real hope to do something about our horrible participation rates.

I wrote a column five years ago suggesting that we should be making bold moves to allow for internet voting. Imagine that far-fetched suggestion today. The talk surrounding our most precious American right is far too easily infiltrated and manipulated if we pursued such a pipe dream, right? It is common to hear politicians and voting advocates insisting on having a “paper backup.” You know, in case something goes wrong with the electronic systems we are currently using to perform the tedious task of yes, you guessed it, counting.

Think of the things we do remotely these days by using that new fangled thing known as the internet. I know, I know, government is not available for delivery like it is stored on the shelf of the closest Amazon distribution center. But it should be. After all, what most people need from the government is easier to ship than almost anything Amazon sells.

Governments have dealt in paper since humanity made the big move from papyrus and parchment over 2000 years ago. Constitutions and other laws are written on paper. They make for good framing displays in important buildings made of limestone around here. Paper currency in America began during the Civil War. Of course, paper was invented in China and that country began using paper for its legal tender about 500 years before it became common in Europe in the 17th century.

Paper has certainly had a good run. But we shouldn’t be growing trees so wood pulp can be used to make more paper, we should be planting and growing trees for more important reasons, like combating climate change.

Every little modification made to our voting processes is so hard fought, I can barely fathom what it took to ratify the 15th, 19th and 26th amendments to the Constitution. The 15th amendment ended voting restrictions on the basis of “race, color or previous condition of servitude.” This one was ratified in 1870, remarkably quick following the war. Conversely, the 19th amendment, which ended any restriction “on account of sex,” took more than 40 years from its original introduction and was not ratified until 1920. The 26th amendment reduced the minimum voting age to 18. This amendment was proposed by Congress on March 23, 1971 and was ratified on July 1 of the same year–the fastest ratification of any amendment in history.

There are myriad stories, suffering and sacrifice that go along with these innovations of their time. So many that it would seem that not exercising our right to vote would be disrespectful to all those who have fought for these fights.

In Indiana in 2018, our voter turnout numbers crept past 50% for the first time in decades for a midterm election. In presidential years, that number is regularly in the neighborhood of 60%–in 2016, our actual number was 58%.

Those numbers are percentages of those registered to vote, which is already a subset of those eligible to vote. Those numbers are embarrassing.

In Oregon, a state with automatic voter registration, more than 90% of eligible voters are registered and the number is rising. That state consistently has participation of 10% more than Indiana. Oh, and they vote on paper and by mail there!

Coming from someone like me who is anti-paper, it might lead some to conclude that I am not a fan of Oregon’s processes. Wrong. When the time comes that we do migrate to internet voting, I am betting that Oregon will be the first in line to make that move. Voters there already vote remotely, register automatically, and voila! They participate more than Hoosiers do.

We can do better here. And the reasons we don’t are all bad ones. Oh, and don’t forget to vote on Tuesday.


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