BROOKE GLADSTONE: On Election Day, New Jersey residents displaced by Sandy were allowed to vote in a distinctly 21st century way, over e-mail. The system was ad hoc and far from perfect. Reports abounded of citizens directed to e-mail the Hotmail accounts of electoral officials and of e-mails being returned after hitting overfilled inboxes. But New Jersey's provisional online voting resurrected a quadrennial question: why doesn’t everyone in the US have the option of voting online? I mean, we can do everything else there.
Thad Hall is the co-author of the book, “Point, Click and Vote: The Future of Internet Voting.” He says the main obstacle to Americans being able to vote in our pajamas is that online,
it's hard to prove that we are who we say we are.
THAD HALL: Given the fact that we don't have any sort of digital way to authenticate ourselves - that is a problem. In some places in the world there are actually digital identities. So, for instance, in Estonia they have an actual ID card, much like your driver’s license, where you can take that card and you can put it into a reader and then you enter in a relatively long personal identification number, and the computer knows that you’re you because you, Brooke, have put in your pin number that should reside only in your head. We don’t have the same system of being able to identify ourselves, and that creates a big potential for fraud because we don't have the identification mechanism to know that you’re you and for a computer on the other end by an election official to know that you’re you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Okay, so problem number one. Problem number two is the way that our political system is structured, you think?
THAD HALL: Right. Here you’re either a Democrat or Republican and sometimes people don't like losing as much here than they would maybe in another country where there could be more coalitions or they might feel that they were able to express themselves better.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What you’re saying is that in a political system with coalition governments you haven't 100% lost, even if your party doesn't win, because there are runoffs and more elections. Each one isn't so fraught.
THAD HALL: Right. We have the – I was actually reviewing a paper about this, and there are more claims of fraud in countries that are like ours, compared to countries that have proportional representation. And I think part of it is because if you live in a proportional representation country, your specific candidate may not win but your party may still be represented in the, in the parliament in some percentage level.
And so, I think that that gives people some sort of ability to see that their vote counted in a different way, but we don’t give seats to Democrats or Republicans based on their proportion of how they did in the, in the election.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Let’s go back to Estonia –
THAD HALL: Yes.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: - or, for our purposes, utopia. So they have electronic voting there?
THAD HALL: They do. They started doing this in 2005. The process actually started in the early 2000's when they developed their digital identification system, and that provided a backbone for them to have security for their online voting. And they have seen usage of their system increase from about 2-1/2% to almost 25%. It’s something that they’re very comfortable with. They view e-government as being an important aspect of, of kind of their country’s identity. They often refer to themselves as E-stonia, with a hyphen between the E and stonia.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] I can feel the hackles of many of our listeners rise when they think of a digital ID card. They’re already nervous enough about actual physical ID cards and taking those to the polls.
THAD HALL: [LAUGHS] Right. I was just in a room with election officials from around the world who came here to watch our elections and the first thing someone asked today was, how many of your countries have voter identification? And the answer was almost all of them. And the government provides people with identification. People but have to pay for it in any way. We are, in many respects, a, a unique country in the fact that we don't have government-provided ID for all, all people, and it – a lot of it has to do with our political culture. We don’t like ID, we don’t like the idea of government knowing where we are or feeling like they’re being tracked. And there are severe civil liberties issues, in addition to the concerns that people have regarding the security of these systems, in general.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: We don't seem to have a huge problem with Google or Facebook knowing stuff about us. Can't Google just run our elections? [LAUGHING]
THAD HALL: People are freaked out enough about local election officials running our elections sometimes, let alone having corporations do it. We are [LAUGHS] – I mean, you’re absolutely right. We are amazingly tied to technology, yet when it comes to voting, we have this cultural desire to go stand in line on Tuesdays in elections and go vote.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So how long before we can vote in our pajamas?
THAD HALL: It's really interesting [LAUGHS] that you say that because if you look at the data on Internet voting in Estonia, people do vote in their pajamas.
There are clearly people who wake up at three in the morning and think, “I need to vote.” But if you’re asking me to predict when you’re going to be able to vote on your iPad, probably not in the next presidential election, but I am sure that, you know, before you and I are dead, we will be wondering why we were not all voting on our iPads.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] Thad, thank you very much.
THAD HALL: Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Thad Hall is the co-author of the book, “Point, Click and Vote: The Future of Internet Voting.”