Friday, May 18, 2012

Internet Polling Coming to a District Near You

In my radio interview Monday, the moderator Flora Brown and I had an enthusiastic conversation about the controversies that surround Internet voting. One of the chapters in my book is about Internet voting, and I spoke with Flora about the unexpected controversies I encountered while conducting my research. Who would have known there were such passions surrounding the future of Internet voting?  Indeed, deep seated philosophical differences exist about using the Internet to vote. Highly accomplished computing professionals fall on both sides of the issue - should we, shouldn't we, can we, can't we employ the Internet as another method to cast ballots?

A few hours after the interview ended I learned about an interesting experiment underway in some parts of the country. Independent voters in certain districts (with tight races perhaps?) have the opportunity to take part in an "Online Voter Preference Survey", organized by a group called the Independent Voter Network, (IVN) and  implemented by a group called "Everyone Counts".

Not actually casting a ballot online, this survey is however asking voters to indicate how they intend to vote in the upcoming June primary (for California). It feels like voting and the ballot is said to be secret, even from the IVN.

What is the purpose? Interesting, actually. I looked at the paperwork sent to selected voters (apparently the list is drawn from people registered as Independents) and there aren't a lot of details. However, they provide the URL for their website (see above) which is full of information.

The voter preference survey is a form of modernized polling. By asking people how they intend to vote, and then shipping the aggregate results off to candidates, those candidates will presumably get a feeling for how Independents are leaning. In time what?

Several interesting issues here. As essentially an online voting opportunity (albeit non binding) there are all the issues of security and privacy that cause Internet voting proponents and detractors to debate. In addition, there is a fascinating issue here about how a centuries old process of testing the winds of voter minds is changing.

Will Internet based vote polling be any more or less accurate than data gathered through phone call surveys and other traditional (labor intensive) mechanisms?

Will politicians react any differently to receiving this data? In a positive way? In a negative way? The same as always?

Perhaps someday there will be fewer robo-calls during dinner? One can only hope.

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