Almost everything about our day-to-day lives—from shopping, banking and transportation to media consumption—has drastically changed with the growing prevalence and power of the internet. However, our government, the organism that regulates and affects how our society operates, has not kept pace.
The majority of our current system of government is antiquated. Even voting, one of the most basic elements of our system, is still counted manually. In a time where computing is faster and more reliable than humans, simple tasks, such as counting the votes, should be moved online in order to be more transparent, efficient, faster and better able provide an easy experience for voters. Campaign group WebRoots Democracy created a report outlining the argument in favor of of online voting and found it would decrease the cost associated with each vote by about a third.
With low voter turnouts across the country, a system that would allow people to vote remotely could easily improve that rate and engage more people in the political process. People could login with their social insurance numbers and create a secure password, just as they do for online banking.This has already been demonstrated in small test areas. Huntsville, Ontario allowed e-voting in the 2010 election and saw nearly a 50% increase in voter turnout.
The common argument against bringing the process online is security, yet the majority of society trusts their entire net worth to computer systems. People don’t own a safe filled with money or gold anymore. Their life savings are today presented to them on a computer screen or statement created by a computer system. Banks have the further complexity of requiring their systems to be functioning and foolproof as people must always be able to access their money. This wouldn’t be the case for a voting system that would only have to be used once every few years. These points illustrate that it certainly can be done and that the fears stated are overblown.
The internet has showed an effect on the government, exposing the outdated and awful system that is the electoral process by revealing the amount of theatre that is involved. Parties pigeonhole people into two or three opposing and simplistic positions on issues that in reality are far more complicated and nuanced. This attitude quickly polarizes the rhetoric in many political debates leading to emergence of people with more extreme ideologies causing an inability for leaders once in government to compromise.
Elections end up being between people who are in line with the major political parties in place. These are often not the smartest people or the best for the job but instead are those who are the best at speaking to the media charismatically. The result is that elections then become about the lesser of evils where the majority of people don’t like any of the options presented to them so select the one they dislike the least.
This is largely because many people do not see the world strictly through one political viewpoint. Who do people who are socially liberal and economically conservative vote for? What do you do if you are largely socially conservative but support gay marriage? Or an Aboriginal living in an Urban environment? People with individual opinions and nuanced perspectives are constantly left unrepresented and as a result have to pick the party that aligns with the majority of their beliefs or end up voting on a sole issue of great importance.
The voting process is made even more difficult by the fact that people simply cannot and do not trust many things politicians promise on the campaign trail or say when they are in office. Eighty-one percent of Americans asked said they never or rarely trusted Washington to do what was right. Compare that to a low of only 40% in 2001, and distrust has essentially doubled in the past 15 years. The internet has done a wonderful job of compiling evidence on things people have said and done, and time and time again politicians have been caught lying and misrepresenting their previous beliefs resulting in this growing distrust.
All of this comes at a time when our world is evolving at speeds unimaginable to previous generations. Strong leadership will be critical more so now than ever before, yet our current systems do not attract the most intelligent people in the fields of science or technology, or social visionaries, to lead us. Instead we are left with those who are best at playing the role in the political theatre the internet has done such an excellent job illuminating. The current American election could provide no better example of the absurdity involved in electing the most powerful individual on Earth. Change will come to how we vote and who we vote for, the only question is when.