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Digitizing the Voting Process: From Paper to Passwords

2020 has introduced many unique circumstances. It’s shown us that there’s not a lot that can’t be done online, from school to therapy. The usefulness of the digital age has never been more salient. The recent chaos of holding an American presidential election during a pandemic has shone a light on just how beneficial digital voting could be, as well. 

From greater accessibility, decreased wait times, and more efficient counts, there are many reasons to modernize the voting process in the US. However, transitioning from analog to digital in a security-sensitive environment, like federal voting, is not an easy process. We’ve seen time and time again that hackers ramp up their activity during campaign seasons. Unfortunately, elections are prime targets for bad actors and the security community should be included in all discussions and planning leading up to a transition to digital voting. Their expertise with technology will be the foundation in protecting democracy. 

Here are some of the challenges the digitization process might face based on an article written by Josh Horwitz, COO of Enzoic:

Resource Constraints in Government 

Massive changes from analog to digital systems often require significant budget and resources, two things always in short supply in government. But as open source and blockchain innovations evolve, they provide solutions to the issues of resource constraints. Additionally, blockchain addresses many of the criteria essential to a fair and transparent election—accessibility, authentication, and security. All of which were concerns in the 2020 presidential election. 

Diverse Population Requirements  

The project of digital voting must also factor in the ‘user base’ of government, the voting population. Projections estimate that 171 million Americans voted in the 2020 presidential election–including people in a vast array of generations. It’s easy to see the varying levels of comfort and familiarity, as well as the number of devices used in these demographics. When it comes to voting, the digitizing process must be wholly inclusive. Both government and technology providers must determine how to meet the needs of many.

Disparate Sectors

The powers involved in voting processes are typically pushed down from the federal government to individual states—and often to the municipal level. This framework functions well when it comes to local districts and towns providing services for small initiatives, but when it comes to a national task of overhauling a federal process, the burden is too heavy. 

Many industries have struggled in their digital transformation. It requires the right mix of skills, funding, and agility. The former are generally in short supply in the government sector, and agility is constrained in such a fragmented environment. Ideally, government representatives and the technology community would collectively address the massive and unique challenge of digitizing the election process, while also encouraging the flexibility needed at the state and local levels.

Secure Authentication Methods

Individual authentication is crucial when approaching voting, and the digital requirements are no exception. The use of biometric data as identity authentication is a popular media topic; however, it remains a small-scale solution not yet appropriate for the entire U.S. population. Relying on biometric authentication would end up being a form of voter suppression because not all citizens have access to a device that has facial recognition. 

It’s much more likely that passwords will be the primary means of authenticating voter’s identities as the election process becomes digitized. With this in mind, part of effectively digitizing the election process will involve both screening and monitoring citizen’s credentials to ensure they are not compromised. The fraud potential is yet another reason why the government and the security community should work together.

Now is not the right time to introduce technological changes. We’ve got enough going on with a pandemic and a fraught transition of power. But as the controversy fades and clarity resumes, digitizing the election process should be a top priority for lawmakers. 

In this climate, a digitized voting system that addresses the vast and divergent needs of the U.S. population, while maintaining the integrity of every individual vote, would be welcome.