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Would You Vote on Facebook?

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Would You Vote on Facebook?
Would You Vote on Facebook?

There has been news lately, reverberating quietly under the Presidential campaign hubbub both at the Congressional level and within State legislators about the future of voting. What will it bring? No more hanging chads? No more long lines? No more extra hour on your Tuesday commute?

What about no more going to a live poll site at all?

Right now, the Voter Empowerment Act is in the House of Representatives, and several similar versions are in states such as New York, Arizona, Delaware, and Georgia. While they don’t propose off-site voting just yet, they have made important strides in allowing residents to register to vote not on the error-prone paper registration forms that have to be mailed in, but right on the computer, on the state’s official -- and secure -- website. If you make a mistake, like your address doesn’t match with your zip code, the website can spot it and alert you to fix the registration right away (think of the red asterisks when filling out a form online that put up after you entered the Captcha). That would be an easy fix at home rather than a nasty surprise when you show up at your polling site.

Also, registering (or amending registrations) online would allow for quicker turn-around. Paper registrations need to be in a month or more before ballot-time in most jurisdictions, but online would allow a deadline much closer to voting day.

The general direction of this new legislation is to make voting easier. It is a fundamental right, and it should not be a burden. Especially in a political milieu where voter suppression is a hot-button issue and allegations of voter fraud are used as scare tactics to make voting harder for some demographics.

This is also in the wake of the so-called “new media” taking both sides of the aisle’s campaigns in new directions. Big campaign announcements (most notably Mitt Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan as his running-mate) are now made on Twitter or other platforms first, before televised news conferences, and are well read (and well-pundited) stories long before the paper journals hit the newsstands. In fact, in less than an hour after this announcement, Ryan sent out his first tweet from a new "PaulRyanVP" Twitter profile saying that he was "honored" to join Romney's team. That’s a lot less time than establishing an 800 number and printing bumper stickers of decades past. Even less than setting up a whole new companion website -- or even Facebook fan page. With less than two weeks until Election Day, President Obama and GOP contender Mitt Romney are asking their supporters to use their own social networks to get their friends and families to vote.

But the real future is not how politicians use social media, or how citizens can register to vote, but how voters can actually mark their ballots online.

Anyone remotely familiar with Facebook news knows that online privacy has been of increasing concern lately, especially with constantly changing (and, according to some, clandestinely changing) Terms Of Service. Earlier this year Facebook offered what could be considered an experiment in online voting, far more impactful than a mere poll or American Idol choice.

In March 2012, Facebook made changes to its TOS and User Policy, and received tens of thousands of comments and complaints from users. Facebook incorporated that feedback into the new policies which they asked users to vote on. They stated that if 30% or more of their registered users voted, the results would be binding. The internet was given eight days. And needed 230 million out of 900 million users to cast a ballot.

Any active user of this site at this time, and others before, would remember any change resulting in seemingly one’s entire news feed being full of gripes about proposed or rumored changes. And now, here, everyone was given a dialogue box upon log-in asking them to actually make their voices heard, rather than join a group or sign a fake petition.

And what happened? Out of 900 million users, a mere 342,632 voted on which privacy policy would govern the site.

This is just one example, of course. And a relatively meaningless one at that. But it’s not an out-of-the-way website that a voter would have to leave their internet comfort zone to get to, but a site that many millions use every day. If the type of user who logs in daily to a site they’ve already filled out registration information for and cares enough about a site to complain about it can’t be bothered to vote, what type of citizen is going to remember to log on to a ___.state.gov website and fill out a long registration form giving out key personal data to cast their ballot? It doesn’t look good. At least not yet.

Voting on the internet does seem inevitable, but with today’s security technology, more internet connections than people, and general unease and techno-phobia, it does not appear to be coming soon.

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