By Reginald Merilus
Election Day 2020 is less than a year away and imagine that you’re sitting on your couch working on a research paper and it hits you: You forgot to vote today. In the midst of your hectic schedule, you forgot to drive over to the federal building to cast your ballot. Does that make you a bad person? Of course not. More and more has been added to your plate.
Our everyday lives have been transferred completely onto our smartphones. When was the last time you used a bank teller versus the ATM? Today’s youth are digital natives and expect technology to improve most aspects of their lives. In our workplaces, the line between work and home has been completely blurred. We send emails after office hours. We work on group projects away from one another. We livestream class discussions using Periscope. If we can use smartphones for just about anything, why not for voting in presidential elections?
Election Day in the United States typically falls on a Tuesday and is not a federal holiday. Holding elections at the beginning of the work week limits the amount of voters who can make it to the polls. We have an obsession with work in this country that deters some people from asking for time off to vote. Being able to cast a secure vote over an app would drastically increase voter turnout.
But fear seems to be holding us back.
Cybersecurity experts have warned us not to mix voting and the internet. In 2016, we experienced one of the most polarizing elections in recent memory. Our intelligence community has made it clear that Russia caused chaos during the 2016 election cycle. A steady stream of misinformation was posted all over Facebook. I personally deleted my Facebook in 2017 in large part to the chaos.
Politicians aren’t too keen on the idea either. “I believe that’s about the worst thing you can do in terms of election security in America, short of putting American ballot boxes on a Moscow street,” said Senator Ron Wyden on the Senate floor this past summer during a speech on election security.
Despite these concerns, smartphone voting is happening.
Voatz, is a Boston based startup whose app allowed West Virginian military members to vote from abroad in the 2018 November midterm elections. The military historically has tried out new ways of doing things before they hit critical mass, i.e., the internet. Private companies working with the military is usually a strong indication of where technology may be going.
The 2018 midterm elections have been recognized for its high voter turnout. In 2018, 40% of voters used either voting by mail or early voting. Showing again that a large percentage of voters find it more convenient not to head to the polls. Not due to disinterest but more so due to inconvenience.
Young voters just starting a career might be afraid to ask for time off from work to vote. Here at The University of Tampa, we have students from all over the country who quite frankly, probably never had to mail in anything. This doesn’t mean that they’re lazy.
“Honestly, it seemed like a huge hassle between classes and fraternity stuff,” said Alia Strukel, a student at UT. “If it’s safe and done right, yeah why not.”
I understand the fears of mobile voting, but as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Fear defeats more people than any other one thing in the world.” So I’m taking the positive approach believing that what allows us to progress in innovation is learning from our mistakes in the pursuit of perfection.
Hopefully, we decide to pursue smartphone voting and not acquiesce to fear. So on Election Day in the near future, instead of stressing over making it to your polling location, you’ll be able to cast a vote from the comfort of your couch.
Reginald Merilus can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org