West Virginia has one of the highest rates of military service in the country, and consequently many armed service members found voting difficult because they were overseas. In fact, the US Elections Assistance Commission reports 300,000 overseas voters requested ballots which were not returned to their home county clerks due to logistical constraints.
The military then developed a secure mobile voting application with facial identification in conjunction with many other security measures in which ballots are safely stored until election night and audited by election administrators.
Other states must follow West Virginia’s lead in making our basic constitutional right more accessible for everyone. Globally we can find examples of safe, secure, and widely accessible elections utilizing mobile voting.
In other countries — particularly in the European Union — where people also file their taxes online, voters asked: if I can do my banking online, and file my taxes online, why can’t I vote online?
The European Union continues to be a leader for voting in terms of greater accessibility. Over the last few years, this has shown that they are able to do more than they would have ever imagined including having two countries, Estonia and Switzerland, start to more fully embrace electronic voting.
Estonia is one of the leaders in electronic voting. They started in 2005 and over the course of a few years they have had roughly 25 percent of all votes cast through the new e-voting mechanism. Switzerland is also another great example–currently about 20 percent of votes are cast through electronic means, according to the EUI.
What is the impact to overall voting participation? It was estimated in Estonia’s 2009 election 16 percent of those voters using the electronic voting mechanism would not have otherwise voted in the overall election. Despite just a 2.6 increase in the total number of votes cast, it improves access to democracy through removing barriers to voting. To put this into perspective, the difference in the 2016 presidential election was 46.1 to 48.2 percent — only 2.1 percent. The only caveat to that, obviously, is that the presidential election in America is based upon the Electoral College, however the world might be a different place.
Chairman Tarvi Martens of the Estonian Electronic Voting Commission stated that there is a correlation between voters who cast their ballots online and distance from a polling station. This suggests that online voting encourages turnout among voters that live further away from the polls. As well, Chairmen Martens noted the benefit to voters with disabilities and those who reside outside of the country.
At a time where 1200 polling locations in Southern states have been closed in the wake of weakened voting rights legislation, we need to consider ways to encourage and increase voter turnout as polling stations prove difficult to access – particularly for voters in historically disenfranchised communities.The ability to easily vote is a human right. It allows as many people to participate and have their voices heard. The moment that we initiate restriction of people’s voting participation — whether it is due to their age, their fear of public health issues, existing illness (es), disabilities, distance from polls, scheduling conflicts, we impair democracy.
In the wake of the Covid-19 Pandemic, many people fear being in large crowds of people, or experiencing long waiting times. Voters should not have to choose between getting sick, spreading the virus or not casting a ballot.
Imagine if our state Connecticut were to adopt more accessible voting systems through secure platforms similar to those employed in West Virginia.
Cate Steel is a 24-year resident of East Lyme. She is the Democratic candidate for State Representative of the 37th District of East Lyme and Salem