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Voting as we know it is far from perfect. Many of us have spent hours waiting in long queues after turning up at polling stations. The registration process in some instances is complex, or even unfair.

But what if we could make voting easier, more open and fairer?

A recent Okta report found that 14 million more Americans would register to vote if it was easier to do so. The US is due to go to the polls in November during an unprecedented time. And this raises the question: as the world battles a global pandemic, is the way we vote coming into question? 

If citizens aren’t able to vote by mail in the upcoming election, what will the impact be?

The fundamental point of voting is to represent the views of the people—getting better turnout is key to this. 

The option to vote by mail removes the burden of physically going somewhere to vote. Given the impact of Covid-19, and social distancing measures, this is more important than ever. 

All states allow at least some form of mail-in voting, but some make it more accessible than others. Seven states (including New York) require a reason other than Covid-19 to allow absentee votes. In these states, a lot of people will still have to vote in person.

Without the option of mail-in voting, or if this option proves difficult or complicated, it’s likely that less people will vote in the upcoming November election.

Could elections be run more effectively via eVoting?

In theory, yes. In practice, there are a whole range of considerations that should be taken into account. Election systems are complex, and adding technology to these procedures has to be done in the right way in order to improve the process, without compromising on security, privacy or access.

However, it’s undeniable that everything is becoming more digital. Mail votes create a secure and easy way to increase voter turnout and participation in democracy. But why stop there? In the future, new channels, including digital platforms, could open up the voting system to more people.

And this is the direction that services are heading—we’re not going backwards. There was a time when online banking would have been dismissed, that it was considered unsafe and insecure. Now it’s part of our everyday life. We all do it. If we’re comfortable managing and transferring one of our most valuable financial assets via digital platforms, why can’t the same be done for voting?

What can we learn from countries that have carried out eVoting?

Some countries have already tested eVoting. Estonia proved that an e-voting model can safeguard the process for millions of citizens.

But some instances of electronic voting haven’t been so successful, such as during the Iowa caucus earlier this year. A key lesson to learn from examples like this is that systems need to be thoroughly tested beforehand. And back-up plans need to be available on the day, in case any problems arise.

How could electronic voting work?

A key part of online voting comes down to the question of identity. How do you prove who you are online to prevent fraud? How do you tie the votes to a real person while at the same time ensuring the process remains anonymous? To do so, eVoting systems would need to integrate with a system of trusted identity providers. 

A dramatic shift straight from in-person voting to purely electronic voting could cause problems in itself. So a good approach to introducing electronic voting, would be to dovetail it with other voting channels. Multiple voting options could actually be a good thing. It would be the perfect way to open voting up to more people and widen access, increasing voter turnout.