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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.

Thoughts on Oslo

I’m not a terrorism or Norway expert, so I’m not going to try to make any policy point about the horrible events that took place today.  I will just say that during my recent trip, I was  stunned by the noticeable amount of trust Norwegian society and institutions placed in one another.   I actually didn’t realize I passed the parliament the first time I did on account of the fact that there were no visible security measures; you could simply walk right up to the walls.  The same could be said about the royal palace, which was guarded only by a friendly military officer.

It wasn’t just protection of key buildings were I sensed a great deal of trust, however.  Security at the airport was a remarkable contrast to the United States.  I never went through customs and felt almost as if I walked off the airplane out of the airport.  There was also no ticket booth on public transport; buying tickets was by and large done on the honor system.  This contrast was really made evident coming back to the US, when I had to fill out my customary form declaring I didn’t touch any livestock or bring home any soil, only to wait in the long security line.

To be sure there are reasons for these differences.  But regardless of whether more security is the correct policy response or not, I found the level of trust in Norway to be beautiful and it would be upsetting if that changed.

Royal Palace (Photo property of David Jandura)

The Norwegian Parliament (Storting) Photo property of David Jandura

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)

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