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We Cannot Afford to Dismiss Online Voting

Below is a letter from Voatz CEO to the editor of The Economist in response to last month’s article, “Why voting online is not the way to hold an election in a pandemic“.

Dear Editor of The Economist,

Allow me to begin by saying that I hold immense respect for The Economist, its well-researched content, and data-driven conclusions. I was surprised, however, to see an almost categorical dismissal of online voting in your article last month, Why voting online is not the way to hold an election in a pandemic.

Whether we like it or not, technology has permeated our lives in undeniable ways, including our vote by mail system (like online absentee requests, voter registration, and electoral rolls). According to Pew Research, an outstanding 75% of adults across the world’s advanced economies own a smartphone, and most of us perform critical work through our mobile devices (including consuming this article).

Without our devices, we have no essential services—banking, telemedicine, news, video conferencing, online faith services, and social interactions—especially in the midst of a pandemic.

Computer science academics who argue that “no electronic system can be fully immune to cyber-attacks and technical issues” are missing the inclusion of key technological advances in their findings: fingerprint and facial authentication, the immutability of a digital signature, cryptography, and the decades-long work championed by Bill Gates and others in the field of trustworthy computing. Remarkably, these advances are all now embedded within our current-generation smartphones and can be leveraged to secure our ability to vote remotely. These arguments against online voting also overlook the very real imperfections of the current system, and its lack of resilience—during the U.S. 2018 midterm elections, for example, nearly half a million mail-in ballots were not counted, and many of those voters were not informed.

These arguments rob our critical infrastructure of the nuance demanded for consideration, and they keep our country locked in the past, actively shutting out citizens from participation. They also ignore the multiple, successful pilots that began in 2018 to enable deployed military, overseas citizens, and voters with disabilities to vote more easily and securely from the safety of their mobile devices. 

If we can agree that online voting is someday inevitable, how will we get there without the support of pilots and testing? 

This pandemic has revealed, in plain sight, the glaring flaws in our current voting systems. They are not resilient. There is no room for contingencies or disruptions. In a COVID-19 world, we must consider all methods to secure access to the vote—and this includes safe and auditable ways to conduct voting online. 

The time for piloting and testing is now. I will champion any initiative that works in tandem with local officials to ensure the security and integrity of each vote. With all due respect, however, shutting down the conversation is not the way to get ready for voting during this pandemic—or even the next. 


Nimit Sawhney
Co-Founder and CEO, Voatz

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