Demand for Online Voter Registration and Voting Doubles During the Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic made people – perhaps for the first time – consider if it is really worth it to leave their homes for many activities. Is picking the right apple at the grocery store worth the risk? As we near the U.S. presidential election, this same question remains, although the stakes are much higher. Constituents shouldn’t have to agonize between choosing their health over casting a vote, or vice-versa, because there’s a better solution. It’s time for the U.S. to bring e-voting to the American people.
So what’s stopping the U.S. from implementing e-voting? Creating a national system of voting online is very much within the realm of possibility today. We have all the tools and technologies available at our disposal today. Below, we address common myths and objections.
Myth #1: People don’t want to e-vote.
As the world remains in the grips of a global pandemic, people’s preferences towards digital activities are changing rapidly across industries. In fact, findings from ForgeRock’s New Normal Report show consumer preferences for online voting doubled across all regions. Almost two-thirds of consumers prefer to register to vote online as well. Inarguably, most voters want a modern and secure way to cast their ballot, which means the end of the paper ballot’s exclusivity is likely near.
At ForgeRock, we believe that digital identity has a huge part to play in this. Digital identity technology can be essential in securing registration, user identification, and authentication – all key steps in ensuring a trustworthy and accurate vote count.
Myth #2: E-voting will enable voter fraud.
Today, verification of votes is utterly archaic. It relies on polling volunteers to compare signatures on voter cards, which seems absurdly low tech, given the digital world we live in. That said, it is challenging to compromise in-person voting at scale. Fraudsters would have to send pretend “voters” one by one to the polls to pass off the false votes – and that’s a federal felony. For the risk, the reward just isn’t there.
E-voting, on the other hand, would introduce a much stronger root of trust than we have in the existing voting system. Identity verification technologies, which are widely available on the market today, can quickly validate the authenticity that people are who they say they are. They use a variety of methods that are much stronger than today’s simple signature match. Technologies such as biometrics, device reputation, behavioral signals, and other digital identity capabilities offer a much more accurate validation of a voter’s identity and avoid widespread voter fraud. These digital identity technologies would transparently put every voter through multiple layers of validation that would provide much greater security without adding friction to the voter experience. The Real ID system that has now been adopted in all 50 states in the U.S. is one step forward toward a minimum standard of identity information. Real ID state licenses are required to provide a core set of security and validation features that make state licenses a very strong level of identity validation.
Myth #3: E-voting will create a new attack vector for hackers and invalidate election results.
One of the reasons that the U.S. voting system is resistant to manipulation today is its decentralized nature. Town to town, state to state, voting methods vary. To create an e-voting system that is resistant to an external digital attack, it, too, must be distributed or decentralized. Blockchain, which is already being utilized for online voting in several countries, is one technology that could be critical. By making it difficult to manipulate individual votes, through containerizing the voting information, utilizing encryption, rotating keys, and leveraging distributed ledger technology, hackers will face a similar challenge to paper ballots – the effort to access a single vote means it would require too much effort to impact the larger voting pool.
Myth #4: There is no way to maintain anonymity in voting digitally.
Identity and access management (IAM) solutions are used by the biggest brands every day with a need to balance both privacy and data integrity. A decentralized, blockchain-based recording of votes could be held as an unchangeable backup, similar to the paper backup approach used today, while the information aggregated and shared outside that blockchain removes personally identifiable information (PII).
Digital voting would likely need to be decoupled into several steps to maintain security and anonymity simultaneously. A user would need to be strongly authenticated. A record that an individual voted would need to be stored in an immutable way that can’t be linked to their actual vote. The individual’s vote would need to be deposited in a different immutable system so that votes can be easily counted and never changed. Maintaining this strict separation ensures that the vote can’t be traced back and linked to the individual who cast it.
Myth #5: Online voting will disenfranchise those who do not have access to smartphones or computers.
With voters at risk of exposing themselves to COVID-19, or the potential risk of future pandemics increasing the need for voting alternatives, e-voting should replace in-person voting. While the vast majority would benefit, there would still be measures in place for those who can’t cast an e-vote. New approaches should be introduced to ensure that no one is left behind in the voting process, but providing an e-voting option quickly will give U.S. citizens an opportunity to balance the risks they face between health and patriotism without having to stand in historically long lines, which have already become an issue in the 2020 election.
As we move towards an e-voting future, the disenfranchised cannot be left behind. Rather, our focus should be on re-enfranchising these communities while ensuring alternative solutions are in place so that every voice is heard and the digital divide doesn’t become the civic divide. These efforts will be well worth the investment in the end.
At ForgeRock, we have a big hammer in our ForgeRock Identity Platform, but voting is a nail-shaped problem that is rooted in identity. The capability to securely identify a person, anonymize and secure their session, and then record their vote is, at its core, digital identity. While identity can't entirely make e-voting 100% viable, as lots of other factors will contribute to its ultimate success, e-voting can’t exist without identity. To create a safe option for citizens to exercise their right and responsibility to vote, the U.S. must make e-voting a reality, starting with the 2024 election. The good news is that the technology is already here.
To learn more about how consumer preferences are changing, check out the ForgeRock Consumer Survey: The New Normal.