District bill could bring mobile voting to city in 2024

The measure — which would allow residents to vote on their smartphones, laptops or tablets — was introduced on Friday by DC council member Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2). It was co-introduced by President Phil Mendelson (D) and Board Members Trayon White Sr. (D-Ward 8), Christina Henderson (I-At Large), Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1), Anita Bonds (D-At Large), Robert C. White Jr. (D-At Large) and Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7).

Mobile voting would not replace traditional ways of voting, but would present another option, Pinto said.

“The bill is really about improving access to vote to make sure we have the most representative democracy possible,” Pinto said of the Mobile Voting Options for Equity Act of 2022. of participation, or law on mobile voting.

Less than 19% of registered voters in the district participated in the 2018 primary election and 46% voted in the general election, Pinto said. Turnout improved in 2020 – 28% of registered voters voted in the primaries and 67% voted in the general election – but his office still called those rates “remarkably low”.

Nationwide, more than 66% of eligible voters cast their ballots in the 2020 general election, the highest turnout in more than a century.

Still, some hope that providing voters with a way to vote securely via their smartphone will boost those rates. And, Pinto said, it would be safe.

The legislation would establish an auditing system to flag security threats and require the district election board to establish a secure system that protects voter data. It would also require that personally identifiable information be kept confidential and destroyed after the vote.

The measure also outlines a system that would verify a voter’s identity, signature, eligibility and registration to ensure that each person gets a ballot. Voters could confirm that their votes are cast correctly and track them to ensure they are received, Pinto said.

The technology exists, Pinto said, and smaller jurisdictions — including counties in Oregon, Washington and West Virginia — have used mobile voting for limited groups, such as foreign military personnel.

The legislation calls on election officials to adopt a system by January 1, 2024.

Reverend H. Lionel Edmonds, the senior pastor of Mount Lebanon Baptist Church, lent his support to the bill saying, “It will make voting more accessible to all DC residents.

It could also simplify the process for some voters, including those with limited English proficiency, disabilities or unreliable access to public transportation, supporters say.

The mobile process would allow members of the blind community to “retain that independence that we all want,” said Tajuan Farmer, legislative president of the National Federation of the Blind of DC Residents, could vote without worrying about whether a place of voting will be accessible. or whether the screen-reading features of voting machines will work.

“When I pick up my phone, which is an iPhone, it has built-in software just out of the box,” Farmer said. If the district unveils a mobile voting app designed for the visually impaired, “those things will be right at your fingertips in your home.”

Akosua Ali, president of the district branch of the NAACP, added that voting is difficult for some workers of color.

“We know many frontline workers have jobs that require people to be available during core business hours,” Ali said. “They have limited availability to take off during the day to vote. Thus, being able to make voting more accessible will only benefit the democratic process by ensuring that more voters vote.

But, Ali added, security and privacy should not be sacrificed for convenience.

“Our support for mobile voting is based on the fact that it is a secure process and that IT security protocols are followed – and only then,” Ali said.

Pinto said election officials learned from the failures of the Vote4DC app, a now-shutdown mobile program that was designed for voters to register or update their personal information. The app had a high failure rate and users were experiencing technical issues. The city has since launched a voter registration website.

But functionality is only a concern. Voting Security Experts also worry about privacy and security threats. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine concluded in 2018 that the internet should not be used to transmit votes.

“The appeal is obvious. We can all agree that if there is a safe way to make voting as easy as possible for eligible voters, we should do it. People really want mobile voting to be that,” said said Mark Lindeman, director of Verified Voting, which focuses on election technology “But we haven’t found a way to do it in a secure and verifiable way.”

Part of the problem stems from how the internet was created, Lindeman said.

“The Internet is still, fundamentally, what it’s been designed by academics since the 1970s, and academics didn’t really think about building a private, secure system,” Lindeman said. Instead, their priority was to share information as quickly as possible.

At a time when millions of people are banking and shopping online, voting on the Internet may seem safe enough to some. But J. Alex Halderman, a University of Michigan professor and electronic voting expert, said voting standards should be higher.

“In banking, a certain amount of fraud is simply accepted as the cost of doing business. But that’s just not how we view elections. We want there to be no fraud in elections,” Halderman said. “Frankly, it’s phenomenally retrograde to consider Internet voting at this time, because we know sophisticated attackers have our electoral systems in their sights.”

In 2010, Halderman and a team of college students hacked into a system the district introduced to allow foreign voters to fill out ballots on their computers. The city held a mock election to test the security of the system and invited people to hack it. It took 48 hours to break into the system, alter the votes and rig it to play the University of Michigan fight song, Halderman said.

Since then, advances in computer security have been weak, Halderman added. “We are still a long way from being able to provide the level of assurance that the public expects.”

But Pinto is optimistic, not least because existing technologies have been proven across the country. She said her office has contacted some of those jurisdictions, including the West Virginia secretary of state’s office, to review safety and security best practices.

“I think we are ready to implement this across the city and the Board of Elections will be able to work with various technologies that have already been or will be developed during this process,” Pinto said. “We have such an engaged electorate here in DC, and it’s very important that we extend the franchise to all eligible voters.”

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