Category Archives: E-voting

Internet voting and turnout

Via Election Updates, comes this story out of Virginia,

Many county and state election officials often lament of low voter turnout, but Surry County, Va. is anticipating 100 percent voter turnout for an upcoming Republican Primary — or a zero percent turnout. A quirk in redistricting means that the county will have to open a polling place for one voter for the upcoming primary. It will cost the county approximately $2,000 to open the polling place for the day and even if the lone voter shows up in the early moments of election day, the county must keep the location open till polls officially close across the state. Registrar Lucille Epps said she contacted the Virginia Board of Elections to ask if the lone voter could be sent to the next closest precinct but was told that was not possible.

Paul Gronke astutely adds:

This is a fun and silly story that Mindy Moretti dug up, but there is a very good reason beyond cost that the voter should be sent to another precinct–privacy!  Obviously, Registrar Epps can not report returns for this precinct, but notice that the Registrar CAN’T REPORT PRECINCT LEVEL RETURNS FOR THE OTHER PRECINCTS EITHER, because a simple calculation will reveal the single voter’s choices.

Norwegian Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development

This is a good point, and I wonder about it in a few other contexts.  In Norway, for example, the country will be piloting an internet voting system for ten municipalities in their upcoming September local elections.   If internet turnout matches that of Estonia’s first trial with i-voting, i-voters would be somewhere around 2 percent.   Combine that with the low number of people per municipality, and the low number who vote in local elections, and it’s somewhat possible that you could have an extremely small number of internet voters per area.  Maintaining transparency requires the government to post who voted via each method (paper ballot, early voting, internet) as well as the results for each method, so there could be a theoretical risk of being able to identify internet voters’ decisions.  In most cases this isn’t that big of a risk, but it’s just a reminder of the many things that have to be considered when developing such a complex system.

Norway Blogging

Blogging has been light lately due to some travel.  I’m in Norway right now, where I came to meet with a team that will be evaluating the country’s internet voting project. In September, ten municipalities will be piloting an option where voters can cast ballots through the internet. (Twenty municipalities are also piloting allowing anyone over 16 years old to vote). There’s a lot to be said about internet voting and I won’t get into that now, but I will say that voting over the internet creates a number of challenges for maintaining such standards as a secret ballot and auditablity. With that being said, the Norwegian plan to accommodate these standards is very complex (too much so to explain here) but also well-thought out.

As far as random Norway facts go, I though I would share the following one about the Norwegian parliament. Seating arrangements in Parliament are made by constituency, not party affiliation like in most chambers. I’m guessing this was designed to promote inter-party cooperation but I doubt, given the little floor time of Norwegian MPs, it makes much difference.

Seat in Parliament (Photo property of David Jandura)

Elections in E-stonia

Internet Voting in Estonia

I have a new post over at ElectionGuide.org detailing the upcoming election in Estonia.  It’s a basic rundown of the election that discusses, among other things, Estonia’s innovative Internet voting system.  I think  it’s a fair question to ask if anybody really needs internet voting, and if the potential costs are really worth anything gained.  Regardless of the answer to that, I believe Estonia has done an impressive job of making their system as secure and safe as can be.  Take, for example, their solution to the problem of vote buying.   The privacy of a voting booth, if executed correctly, can destroy much of the potential for vote buying.  This is because it makes it difficult for a vote-buyer to verify how a ballot was actually cast. (Yes there are ways around this, that’s why I said “if executed correctly”).  This protection would be lost with the ability to vote from anywhere at anytime.   Estonia, however, has found a solution to this.

To address this problem, Estonian officials came up with an innovative solution:  an elector can cast as many internet votes as they like in the allotted timeframe, but only the last vote will count.  In addition, an elector may still cast a paper ballot on election day, which will void all previous votes cast through the internet. This setup destroys the incentive for a vote buyer to purchase a vote, as they have no guarantee that the voter cannot simply change it at a later time

I would also add that this goes above and beyond the state of Washington, which votes entirely by mail, and is theoretically subject to the same level of vote buying.

What reality TV can teach us about election managment

Not a lot it turns out, but enough for a blog post.

The structure of an Electoral Management Body (EMB) is a critical element in effective and fair election administration.  The legal framework for how the members of an EMB are appointed varies greatly from country to country, with each model offering a unique set of advantages and disadvantages.

Although practitioners should be aware that local context is important, it is always helpful to have an understanding of how EMB design can shape incentives and affect the management of elections.   In a paper submitted to APSA, Barry C. Burden, David T. Canon, Stéphane Lavertu, Kenneth R. Mayer, and Donald P. Moynihan have explored the effect of partisan EMB membership on the body’s behavior.  In their paper, Election Officials: How Selection Methods Shape Their Policy Preferences and Affect Voter Turnout, the authors find that how clerks are selected has a noticeable impact on the body’s priorities.

We employ a uniquely rich dataset that includes the survey responses of over 1,200 Wisconsin election officials, structured interviews with dozens of these officials, and data from the 2008 presidential election. Drawing upon a natural experiment in how clerks are selected, we find that elected officials support policies that emphasize voter access rather than ballot security, and that their municipalities are associated with higher voter turnout. For appointed officials, we find that voter turnout in a municipality is noticeably lower when the local election official’s partisanship differs from the partisanship of the electorate. Overall, our results support the notion that selection methods, and the incentives that flow from those methods, matter a great deal. Elected officials are more likely to express attitudes and generate outcomes that reflect their direct exposure to voters, in contrast to the more insulated position of appointed officials.

I think the recent  kerfuffle with Bristol Palin does a good job of demonstrating this tradeoff in priorities.  Bristol Palin, daughter of the ubiquitous Sarah, lost in the Dancing with the Stars finale the other night.  Palin’s run generated a fair amount of controversy due to the fact that she kept advancing despite receiving poor scores from the judges.  This was exacerbated after accusations surfaced of Tea Party activists exploiting a glitch in ABC’s internet voting system that allowed supporters to cast an infinite amount of votes.   Whether of not this electronic ballot stuffing actually happened in a way that influenced outcomes, it demonstrates how incentives shape behavior for EMBs.  ABC’s incentive for the show’s voting system was access, not security, which is a perfectly understandable tradeoff for what they were doing.  There were definitely steps ABC could have taken to strengthen the verification process, but it would have probably reduced convenience for users.  We shouldn’t be surprised that many reality TV systems have security holes, as long as there is a tradeoff with accessibility involved.

Related, electoral system design is also critical in reality TV voting.  I noticed that Last Comic Standing, for example, used a Cumulative voting system.  Viewers were allowed to cast ten votes, but could distribute those votes in anyway they wanted (meaning they could vote 10 times for one contestant).  I’m guessing this method was employed in order to ensure adequate minority/female representation in the higher rounds.  If we assume that female viewers are more likely to support female contestants, and the same being for minorities, than those viewers would be able to contribute all their votes to the few female candidates while men would spread their votes among men.

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