This will unfortunately be my last "official" weekly post for the autumn quarter. I may continue updating my blog, but it won’t be occurring as a weekly routine. In this post, I will focus on the implications of online voting for deliberation in voting. Though voting in general incorporates collaboration by using votes (outputs) in order to decide on a particular candidate, voting also incorporates key elements of deliberation as well. In attempting to incorporate these deliberative elements in online voting systems, we must consider the possibility of backfire and the steps we can take to prevent it.
In his article “Why Internet Voting”(2001), Loyola Law School Professor John T. Nockleby argues that Internet voting may at best promote formal political equality (as opposed to substantive social or economic equality) by increasing voter accessibility and participation. This formal political equality in the election process seems to directly mirror one of Beth Simone Noveck’s foundational criterion for a deliberative process: “procedural uniformity and the equality of inputs” (Wiki Government, 39).
Nevertheless, deliberation also “debates problems on an abstract level before implementation”(Wiki Government, 39). However, Internet Voting, according to Nockleby, privatizes connections between people: voters are at home, sitting in front their computers as opposed to standing in line at the polls. Is there some intrinsic, deliberative value in standing in line at the polls as opposed to sitting alone, staring at a computer monitor? I’m not entirely sure if there is an extremely obvious negative implication here. Voters can still engage in deliberation on the Internet: forums and online polls allow voters to discuss election issues prior to actually casting their ballots.
I think the greater problem, however, may lie in the backfiring of increasing voter accessibility through easy-to-use online voting technology. If an online voting system drastically speeds up and simplifies the voting process, voters may act impulsively rather than debate and refine their views prior to voting. However, there really is no set brink for how much additional efficiency or implication will result in these impulsive decisions, let alone the proof of a causal relation between these factors and impulsiveness. But even if we do assume that efficiency and simplification need to be constrained in order to prevent citizens from voting impulsively, what steps are sufficient? Are a set of identification forms prior to accessing the online ballot enough? Should voters be required to spend a set amount of time in a chat room/online forum with other voters before finally casting their ballots (what I’d call an online caucus)?
I think what’s missing in the discussion of online voting is that criticisms of online voting often lack alternative ways or approaches to tackle the very problems they criticize. Creating such approaches are important, precisely because if online voting does become prevalent in elections, sheer criticism will not aid in solving its weaknesses.