Can Entrepreneurs Make Mobile Voting Easy and Secure?

BRIAN KENNY: The influence of Ancient Greece in modern society is all around us, theater, libraries, mathematics and science, even trial by jury. One of their greatest contributions: democracy. In the fifth century, Greeks cast their votes on broken pieces of pottery called Ostraka, which led to the term ostracized, because they were voting not to elect, but to exile unpopular politicians. Substitute the broken pottery for paper ballots and the practice of voting remains pretty much the same, which seems a little odd in a world filled with handheld devices and biometric technology. You may even ask yourself, shouldn’t we be able to do this on our phones? Today on Cold Call, we’ll discuss Professor Mitch Weiss’s case entitled, “Voatz.” I’m your host, Brian Kenny, and you’re listening to Cold Call, recorded in Klarman Hall Studio at Harvard Business School. Mitch Weiss studies digital transformation, pure production and innovation ecosystems. He created the school’s course on public entrepreneurship, and he is the author of the forthcoming book, “We the Possibility, Harnessing Public Entrepreneurship to Solve Our Most Urgent Problems.” Thanks for joining us again. You’ve been on the show a few times. We’re really happy to have you back, at a very important time, we are in the midst of an election cycle here.

MITCH WEISS: This issue of mobile voting has been circulating for some time, and people have been worrying about it for as long as the idea has been around. And people have been pursuing it. So Voatz wasn’t the first or last company to come along to try this. They weren’t responsible for what went down in Iowa.

MITCH WEISS: But the issues that are swirling around it are all the same.

BRIAN KENNY: Great. Well, I know I think people are really going to enjoy hearing about it, and I’m sure many people have asked themselves, “Really, why can’t I do this on my phone that I carry everywhere with me?” So maybe you can start us off. How would you start the class off if you were about to start an MBA class around this?

MITCH WEISS: Well, class starts in this fashion, Brian, what’s happened with Voatz, which was started by a guy named Nimit Sawhney, is that they’ve been piloting in West Virginia with the secretary of state there, a guy named Mac Warner, with the support of a gentleman named Bradley Tusk, who was Uber’s first political lobbyist and has become a big proponent of mobile voting. And where after they’ve piloted this in the state of West Virginia for the purposes of helping military voters mainly overseas vote in the 2018 congressional primaries. As far as we know, the voting has gone off without a hitch in the spring of that year, and they’re heading towards the general election in November of 2018. And around August, a tweet goes out from a security tweeter in the EU, who goes by the handle @GossiTheDog, and gets word of-

BRIAN KENNY: I’m sorry, what was that handle again?

MITCH WEISS: Yeah, it’s @GossiTheDog. You can follow him. And gets word that this is being piloted and tested in the United States, and tweets out that this is basically unsafe and finishes this tweet storm by saying, “Bonkers America”, hasn’t anybody looked into this? And so class starts out when we say, okay, you’re Nimit Sawhney, you see these tweets come across your computer. Do you respond?

BRIAN KENNY: Okay. Now, I didn’t mention in your intro that you were, before coming to HBS, you were working as chief of staff for Boston mayor, Tom Menino, legendary mayor here in the city of Boston. So you’ve been up close and personal to the election process before. How did you hear about Voatz and how does this relate back to the work that you’re doing now at Harvard Business School?

MITCH WEISS: Well, mobile voting is a topic of interest. As you said people, some people want to know why I can’t vote by this thing I have in my pocket. Other people, computer scientists, legal scholars, think this was the worst idea they’ve ever heard of. I had been somewhat aware of the swirl of these opinions. I had come across some articles about Voatz. The work that I do on public entrepreneurship is all about inventing things, new things, either for use in government by government or by private startup companies for government. And I had been on the lookout actually for many years about trying things when the trying of them was perilous itself. It’s one thing to talk about, I’ve written cases about crowdsourcing bus maps or cases about new police records management systems. And those things all need to be foolproof. But nothing needs to be more foolproof than the vote. So I had been on the lookout for trying to test our ideas about invention in our government, in the most sacrosanct of places. So when I was seeing the swirl of ideas and controversy around Voatz, I thought this would be a very good place to play out these ideas.

BRIAN KENNY: Yeah, absolutely. So tell us a little bit about the protagonist, Nimit Sawhney.

MITCH WEISS: Yeah, Nimit is a very interesting person. He grew up in India. He saw people who were forced to vote one way or the other when he was a young child in India. He grew up wondering, wouldn’t there be a way eventually to make sure that people could vote un-coerced? He eventually comes to the United States and after having worked on a series of cybersecurity-related startups and technology firms, not all startups, and ends up participating in a South by Southwest hackathon and basically experiments with, could we maybe use a blockchain or other applications to help provide a non-coercive voting and eventually mobile voting.

BRIAN KENNY: Okay. And I should tell, if our listeners are trying to find Voatz online, it’s V-O-A-T-Z.


BRIAN KENNY: Just to throw you off the scent.

MITCH WEISS: Yes. Or you could just ask @GossiTheDog, I think.

BRIAN KENNY: Yeah, you could ask him. He follows them. So who do they compete with? There are other players in this space. We know there was a company in Iowa. Who else is in this space?

MITCH WEISS: Well, in the most profound way, of course, what they’re competing with is the status quo. The most profound question is shouldn’t we not just continue to rely on paper ballots? Wouldn’t that be the safer, better way to go about this? That’s their most profound competition. There are a handful of other startups that were working in mobile voting. And at the time that we’re sitting down now, Brian, there are also big technology companies, including Microsoft, who have been working in the mobile voting space. So their competition is both the status quo and new entrants, and the new entrants are both other startups and some of the biggest technology companies on the planet.

BRIAN KENNY: So without getting into great granular detail, we all vote. I hope we all vote. We all are used to going to our polling places and going in and submitting our ballots. Who is managing the process? Is there somebody who is overseeing voting at large in the United States?

MITCH WEISS: Yeah, in the United States, the most fundamental thing to understand is that it’s managed mostly at the local level. So what you have are local jurisdictions, local elections offices who are in charge of administering these elections. So it’s very operationally taxing. As you can imagine, running anything that you only run periodically is difficult to do. Everybody wants it to run smoothly, they want it to want securely. There obviously over the course of US history have been moments where votes have come to question. The year 2000 is the one that looms most largely in our minds. And ever since then, people have been worried about the legitimacy of the vote. There’s a political scientist, a scholar of all this stuff named Rick Hasen, who has a book called, The Voting Wars. But the reason he’s titled his book that way is he thinks that ever since 2000 the political parties have turned elections into a weapon in and of themselves. So any hint or perception or reality around any disorganization or lack of security is amplified in that environment. In addition, you mentioned that we all vote. We don’t actually all vote and so one of the impetus for Nimit, but especially for Bradley Tusk, who is supporting these efforts financially, was to increase participation. The notion that he had, Bradley, was that if we had more people voting, it was more convenient to vote, we’d get more people to participate. We’d have a less polarized country. So that’s up in the air here too.

BRIAN KENNY: You referenced 2000. We don’t need to go into great detail, but I do want to remind people that was the one year where we had a contested election results for the presidential election down in Florida. Supreme Court had to get involved. The process they used was …

MITCH WEISS: Hanging chads.

BRIAN KENNY: Hanging Chads. So they were literally punching holes in a card of some sort, and the holes didn’t punch all the way through and then chaos resulted. And here we live in a day and age where there’s great concern about outside interference in the election who are trying to have an effect on the outcome of the election, and I think a lot of concern about security of online things just generally speaking.

MITCH WEISS: Yes. Some very prominent computer scientists and legal scholars think that mobile voting, electronic voting is one of the worst ideas around. So you weigh that against the concerns that Bradley Tusk is enumerating, which is we need more people participating in the vote and you see the competing interests. And because we’re on “red alert” as it relates to our elections, because we’re so worried about other people interfering in the elections, and because in that environment, any interference or perceived interference could throw an election to chaos. You have computer scientists, election scholars thinking this is not a safe idea.

BRIAN KENNY: Yeah. So let’s talk a little about Mac and his motivation for really taking a leap of faith on this one. He’s former military. He’s got children who are in the military. He knows as a person having been overseas that it’s pretty difficult to vote. Can you talk a little bit about that aspect of it?

MITCH WEISS: Mac Warner will tell you that he was overseas, he’s had been an army officer, has children all served in the army, had been overseas himself and been standing in a field and sees a shepherd on his cell phone in Afghanistan and thinks about, well gosh, the shepherd is able to do all sorts of things he needs to do on his mobile phone and I can’t even get done the kind of things I need to do on my mobile phone, and thinks a lot about voting. If you are serving overseas in the military, voting, it’s not an easy process. You might have to still find a fax machine or maybe you could find a computer, but then it’s not going to be secure because the vote is coming from your email. Maybe you’re in a submarine and you can’t get access anyway. Maybe it’s snail mail and there’s no post office nearby. So the rates of overseas military voters and overseas citizens voting are quite low. And Mac Warner, when he gets elected to become the Republican secretary of state of West Virginia, says, this is one of the things I’m going to fix. And he puts his team, he has an incredibly capable team, on figuring out what they can do about making it easier for what are called UOCAVA voters to vote and they end up piloting this project with Voatz.

BRIAN KENNY: Just generally speaking, what are the kinds of challenges that are facing people who are trying to vote? Now maybe not even military folks, but the people who are living overseas for some reason or students who are away at school. It seems to be really complicated if you’re not at home and can drive to your local precinct to cast a vote.

MITCH WEISS: Think about all the hurdles that one faces in voting, potentially, potentially. And I’m not suggesting that any of these hurdles should be too much to vote, but people who want to make it easier to vote point to, you have to go vote usually and you’re working, you have to go vote, you have to go to a specific polling place and potentially wait in line. Those lines can sometimes be quite long. Those lines can be longer for people who are not white. There’s some interesting data around the fact how long you have to wait to vote may depend on the color of your skin, where your precinct is. So there are people are disproportionately affected by these hurdles, I guess is the point. And there’s been a long legacy of that of course in this country. If you’re a physically disabled, it may actually be quite hard for you to vote. There’s ways to get assistance, but even those things are hard, and also can in some ways violate the sacrosanct privacy of your vote. They’re real matters of everyday life, and mobile voting might make it more convenient. Mac Warner tells a story about how one of the overseas voters, voted from their kitchen table and couldn’t believe just how different this was from the everyday voting experience of going to a polling place, waiting in line, doing it on a work day. Now there have been a number of measures that have been taken the United States over the past couple of years to try to make that easier. Many states have early voting so you can vote on other days. Many states have mail in voting. Interestingly, I believe that the early data on that doesn’t suggest that it affects participation rates that much. We don’t know what the outcome of mobile voting would be, but it at least puts into student’s minds the question of whether or not this mobile thing, voting thing is really going to do what it says it’s set out to do.

BRIAN KENNY: Yeah. Are there other places in the world where people are doing this with success?

MITCH WEISS: There’s been a little bit of e-voting in Estonia. There’s other places that are looking into it. It has happened in a handful of places, yes. It’s by far not the dominant way that people vote.

BRIAN KENNY: Yeah. What about the current system that we have? How stable and secure is that? There’s been a lot of people, especially since 2000, who have raised questions about that.

MITCH WEISS: The system has its vulnerabilities. You mentioned the Iowa caucus, certainly this new software, which was a program called Shadow that was brought in to be used in the Iowa caucus was new, early accounts are that it was relatively untested. So it was at fault for the chaos that rained after the Iowa caucus, but there were lots of other things involved in counting votes in the Iowa caucus that didn’t have to do with the app that also didn’t work that well. In some ways what it did, the whole episode brought transparency to what had been otherwise un-transparent process.

BRIAN KENNY: And caucuses are not like typical elections, right?

MITCH WEISS: They’re not like typical elections, but they have all the same concerns. Did people get represented and were they able to vote? Was their vote counted correctly? Was their vote communicated correctly? Does the actual vote reflect the intended vote? The Iowa episode revealed, I think, questions on all those dimensions, and those dimensions to your question exist in all votes. Are people getting equal access to the polls? If they’re getting access to the polls, are they able to vote in the way that they intended? Is their vote counted the way they intended it to be? You? Was there a ballot marked correctly? Was the ballot design influential in some way or the other? Were votes tabulated correctly? Where they communicated directly? And again, as Rick Hasen would point out, this is all now happening in an era of Twitter and other social media where anybody can weigh in on anything and it makes the vote very, very fraught.

BRIAN KENNY: So, let’s go back to Voatz then, now that we’ve got all that background to think about. They get this, Mac Warner says, I want to give this a try. So what happens? It gets a little crazy for them just trying to make everything, pull everything together in time.

MITCH WEISS: They ended up having a very short deadline to pull this together on, but between the time that Mac Warner’s team gets comfortable with them doing it and the beginning of the primary elections in the spring of 2018, again, think about all things that you have to do in order to get a mobile vote to come off without a hitch, including just getting the actual punctuation of every single paper ballot converted to something that’s going to be communicated digitally down to every little apostrophe or parenthesis or whatever it might be. So they basically, it comes very much down to the wire, but they do finish in time to get started for the spring primary, and they do end up having just a little over a dozen voters. It was a very small pilot. It was two counties in West Virginia. It was just the overseas voters in those counties, only the ones who wanted to vote this way, nobody was mandated to vote this way. It was a very, very small pilot. So they were able to pull it off, and best we know, nobody’s vote was tampered with.

BRIAN KENNY: So, what was the criticism of the tweeter in this case?

MITCH WEISS: Well, so the criticism of the tweeter is that this is still not safe. That mobile voting … It’s not just the tweeter, by the way. The tweet sets off a series of increasingly elevated conversations about whether this should or shouldn’t be done. And the concern is that phones are hackable. Electronic systems are otherwise hackable. That you’re exposing an already vulnerable system. We talked about the vulnerabilities, the security vulnerabilities, the organizational vulnerabilities, that you’re exposing an already vulnerable system to more vulnerabilities. That’s the criticism, that this is bonkers because you’re already under attack. Why would you open up another front of a potential attack for outsiders or insiders to mess with the vote.

BRIAN KENNY: I guess the central players in this, how do they think about that? Do they respond? Obviously they feel like what they’re doing is secure enough.

MITCH WEISS: Nimit’s response would be that what they’re doing is secure, period, that they’ve tested and retested. That they’ve set up bounty programs to find people who could find vulnerabilities, that the technology is safe. Bradley’s view is that it’s important for democracy that more people vote. And it’s important for solving the biggest problems that we face in the world, that more people participate. He believes the vote should be safe, I’m not suggesting that he thinks otherwise, his primary focus is essentially what kind of democracy do we have if people aren’t voting en masse. So that’s his main lens on the problem.

BRIAN KENNY: Yeah. So as you discuss this in class, you’ve got students from all over the world there, I’m curious what other people’s experiences are with their election process and sort of how they think about this in the context.

MITCH WEISS: Yes. Most of the students of course come from countries where they get to vote. Not every country. Most of the students have voted. Most of them experienced it for I think the ways that all of us experience it. It’s typically a moment of civic pride and duty, and it comes with some of its logistical conundrums. Certainly their country is much bigger than the United States, which are considering, have thought about the potential for mobile voting.

MITCH WEISS: So, yeah, students range all over the map in terms of how they respond to this from their own personal experience. Did they have to wait in line, not wait in line? Did their country have to fight for the right to vote more recently or later? Did certain people in those countries have to fight for the vote more recently or later? But they all still come to it with a sense of, there’s something special and important about the vote and wanting people to vote, but also wanting it to be prudent and so they’re wrestling with the same debate that society’s wrestling with around this. It would be better to have more people voting and make it easier to vote. It has to be safe. How do we reconcile those two objectives? The students also react to it quite differently in terms of whether they think Voatz and things like it, mobile voting, are a good idea. Whether they think entrepreneurs, the big question is whether entrepreneurs should be working on something so sacrosanct as the vote, or whether they should, that’s the one thing that should be reserved for what is just the tried and true. But the point is, the students are all over the map in terms of whether or not they think this is a good idea or not. Whether or not technologists should be going after something as sacrosanct as the vote or not. And they roughly divide in people who think democracy, government needs to be constantly reinvented. That’s what’s been happening ever since it started. Or who think, no, government should be one of these things that has a place for it where some things are just safe. Sometimes we just do what’s tried and true. There’s some places which the entrepreneurs and the technologists would keep their hands off of.

BRIAN KENNY: And those are sort of the, I guess, philosophical questions around this, but we haven’t even really talked about the business side of this. Is there really a business model here that anybody should wade into?

MITCH WEISS: Even just the public voting market is quite substantial. And if you expand beyond the United States, you can imagine you could build a quite successful business just in voting technology. In fact, there’s a small number, it’s a little bit of a quasi-oligopoly, a small number of companies already, provide the technology that people use when they go into the voting booth. So there is a market for that. It’s not an easy market to go into. In fact, when Nimit got started, a lot of the venture capitalists who he spoke with said, this is a terrible idea. Totally fractured in terms of state and local leadership, very long sales cycles, not all that much openness to experimentation. So, there is a business model for voting technology. There’s a lot of federal funding for it. There’s lot of other funding for it. It’s not clear that it’s a super business opportunity or super for entrepreneurs if you limit yourself to municipal voting or public voting in the United States. But it starts to get more appealing perhaps if you expand out beyond just the United States or if you expand out beyond just voting in public elections. We vote on all sorts of other things. So the people who are building voting technology think it could be used for potentially proxy votes or student council votes. In fact, one of the places they pilot some of these things are at universities who are running their student body elections. If you think about all the other kinds of elections that happen, you can imagine this technology being used in those places. So it presents a business opportunity in that way. Some of the leadership at Voatz will tell you, they imagine a day where voting becomes such a big, robust, collective activity that many more people are voting that the app itself becomes a platform for many other kinds of civic engagement. You can imagine things like this veering off in other directions. So it is a business model and it’s certainly one that Nimit and his team are pursuing and a handful of others. And at this point, as I said, Microsoft, Amazon, others have absolutely entered into the election space. So Microsoft and Amazon see an opportunity here, and so do startups.

BRIAN KENNY: Yeah. So just as a parting question here, as students are, are packing up their stuff at the end of class, what are you hoping they’re walking out of the room thinking about?

MITCH WEISS: This is the last case of the year in public entrepreneurship. We spend the entire semester talking about how we could go after what I’ve come to call possibility government, which is to do things that would only possibly work. That we need to move away from probability government ,where we do things that will probably work but lead to middling and mediocre outcomes, and towards possibility government, where as I said, things would only possibly work. It means they probably won’t. That’s the realm of the entrepreneur. We spent a whole semester basically trying to say, gosh, why do we need to do this? Because we have unsolved problems. How could we do this? With public leaders and the public who have more appetite for trying new things. How tactically could we do this in terms of how do we get new ideas, how do we try them, how do we scale those ideas? They spent all semester thinking about this and probably coming around maybe to the notion of possibility, and then the last day we want to say, wait, how far do you want to take that? Just as far as the vote, just as far as democracy? And I hope students leave with basically two ideas in their mind at the same time, which is one that absolutely after we’ve used all the tools and tips and techniques or learned all the tools and tips and techniques of public entrepreneurship, of possibility government, that reinvigorating and reinventing our democracy is a place that they should use those towards, because we do live in a democracy that’s threatened. We do live in a democracy where people feel like their ideas aren’t represented. We do live in a democracy where we’re not solving our biggest problems. I want them to feel like possibility could and should be for that, but I also want them to think about the perils of doing that, the dangers of doing that, the risks of doing that and the responsibility they have to do that wisely and prudently. I hope they’ll leave class with both feeling the potential of possibility of government, and also feeling the duty that comes along with it.

BRIAN KENNY: That’s great, Mitch. Thanks so much for joining us today.

MITCH WEISS: My pleasure, Brian. Thank you.

BRIAN KENNY: If you enjoy Cold Call, you might like other podcasts on the HBR Presents Network. Whether you’re looking for advice on navigating your career, you want the latest thinking in business and management, or you just want to hear what’s on the minds of Harvard Business School professors, the HBR Presents Network has a podcast for you. Find them on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen. I’m your host, Brian Kenny, and you’ve been listening to Cold Call, an official podcast of Harvard Business School on the HBR Presents Network.

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Is Donald Trump right that more Americans voting is bad for Republicans? Let’s take a look

The 2016 and 2018 US elections were historic for plenty of reasons — like the unlikely election of a businessman-turned-reality-TV star to the presidency, and the wave of diverse candidates who were elected in the backlash to it two years later.

The 2016 presidential election was also noteworthy for just how few eligible Americans actually voted — just 55 per cent. A 20-year-low for a presidential election.

The 2018 midterms were historic for the opposite reason: a nearly 100-year-high turnout, where still only 50.3 per cent of eligible Americans voted.

In both elections, roughly half of eligible Americans chose to have their say. So, what if the rest joined them?

How would future US elections change if every person who could vote, did?

A lot of money is spent trying to convince Americans to vote

From the beginning, it’s important to understand how federal elections are run in the US.

Rather than being administered by a single body like the Australian Election Commission, the US operates on a decentralised system, with each state responsible for its own elections.

The federal US government isn’t responsible for running elections.(AP: J Scott Applewhite)

It means the rules for a voter in Wisconsin can be wildly different to the rules for a voter in California.

But there is one common rule across all 50 states: Voting is optional.

“The American culture, by and large, does not like to be required to do anything,” Capri Cafaro, executive in residence at American University School of Public Affairs, said.

For American political parties, that means convincing someone to vote for you is only half the battle. The first step is convincing them to vote at all.

Every election, hundreds of millions of dollars are spent by political parties, governments and corporate America on something known as Get Out The Vote (GOTV). Think television ads, flyers, doorknocking campaigns, emails, phone calls and more all trying to convince Americans to turn up to the polls.

A roll of "I Voted!" stickers
Stickers are part of the GOTV effort in America. They aren’t exactly a democracy sausage.(AP: Wilfredo Lee)

Some states also try to make voting easier by allowing things like mail-in voting, early voting, absentee voting, same-day registration, automatic registration and online registration.

Generations of GOTV efforts mean just about every trick in the book has been tried.

Short of rolling out the humble Australian democracy sausage, it still hasn’t convinced almost half of eligible Americans — somewhere in the ballpark of 100 million people — that voting is worth it.

Sausages and onion cooking on a barbecue.
The traditional Australian method of luring voters to the polls.(ABC News: Isabel Dayman)

So why doesn’t the US Government make them do it?

First, the US Federal Government can’t without a hell of a fight.

“I think one of the reasons that the Federal Government would not do that is because there would be massive pushback from a number of states and their representatives in Congress, individuals that feel very strongly about states’ rights,” Cafaro said.

And remember how Americans don’t like being told what to do by the Government?

“I don’t think that the American public, by and large, would want to be forced to vote. Because I think part of the view is that part of your right to vote is not doing it,” Cafaro said.

Another hurdle is the perception that compulsory voting would advantage one party over another.

Anthony Fowler, a professor at the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago, said that was a “critical” obstacle to any future of compulsory voting in the US.

“There would be lots of politicians who think that this is bad for them and may be bad for their own personal re-election chances. It may be bad for their party,” Fowler said.

“And that’s going to be a natural deterrent to doing anything.”

Yard signs supporting U.S. President Donald Trump and Democratic U.S. presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden
Politicians themselves are an obstacle to compulsory voting in the US.(Reuters: Al Drago)

It’s not as simple as ‘if more people voted, Trump would lose’

But it’s an entrenched idea.

Forget a massive change like compulsory voting for a second. Even simple efforts just to try to increase the number of Americans who vote often meet resistance because of the perception that more voting is bad news for Republicans.

Speaking about a Democratic Party effort to make voting easier amid the pandemic, US President Donald Trump told Fox News earlier this year:


We can examine the President’s scenario of high levels of voting.

Let’s say US governments gave up asking nicely and did something extreme, like, copying Australia’s system of compulsory voting. Would a Republican ever be elected again?

Voting booth at Bondi beach
You can vote pretty much anywhere in Australia, wearing pretty much anything.(Fairfax Media: Edwina Pickles)

“Lots of things would change,” Fowler said.

How does he know? Because Fowler studied what happened when Australia introduced compulsory voting.

“I think the [same] logic essentially would also apply to the United States, where poor, working-class people are much less likely to vote under voluntary voting. They become more likely to vote under compulsory voting, and that does change elections and changes policy as a result,” Fowler said.

Senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, Karlyn Bowman, agreed the average American voter had a higher level of education and income. But would introducing compulsory voting turn every election afterwards into a landslide for one party?

So it’s not the end of one of the United States’ major political parties as the President suggests. Here’s Fowler to explain why:

Basically, if compulsory voting suddenly dumped 130 million votes onto the American electoral map, the Republican and Democratic parties wouldn’t think twice about shifting their platforms to appeal to them.

COVID-19 made voting in 2020 even more complicated. It’s not stopping Americans

Only a few primary elections escaped the chaos coronavirus wrought on elections in the US in 2020.

But despite shifting deadlines, significant changes to methods of voting and very real concerns about the safety of casting a ballot in person, plenty of Americans still did their civic duty.

Voting stations are set up in the South Wing of the Kentucky Exposition Center
Voting hasn’t been the same for Americans in 2020.(AP: Timothy D. Easley)

In the Democratic primary process, 34 million voters cast their ballots, up from 31 million in 2016 according to the New York Times.

And despite Trump running essentially unopposed in the Republican primary, 14 million voters still turned out.

After the record turnout at the 2018 midterms, the buzz about more Americans than ever voting in 2020 is growing.

But it might be too early to say what will happen.

“Either people are so disgusted, they all sit at home because they’re defeated, or everybody shows up because they feel that they’re sort of on the line.”

Voters line up outside polling boohts in Georgia
Long lines at polling booths don’t necessarily mean more Americans are turning out to vote in 2020.(Reuters: Dustin Chambers)

Bowman said reading the turnout tea leaves as a boon for one party over the other could be misguided.

Sure, voting against Trump might be a motivating factor for Democrats. But they’re also far more likely to be fearful of the pandemic (which in turn could be an excuse not to vote).

Don’t hold your breath for a future where every American votes. But change could happen

Fowler said there was a time (the late 1800s to be precise) when the records show a huge majority of Americans chose to vote.

The catch?

“That was the period where there was probably a lot of fraud, a lot of double voting, a lot of vote buying and things that we actually don’t think of as being very desirable for democracy,” he said.

In modern American history, the highest turnout in a presidential election was 62 per cent in 1960. That year featured the nail-biting contest between Richard Nixon and John F Kennedy right as televisions became a fixture in US households.

Fowler said it was hard to ever see something like 70 per of Americans voting under the systems in place now.

People wait in a socially distant line at an early voting site at the Fairfax County Government Center in Fairfa
Americans are already voting in the 2020 election.(Reuters: Al Drago)

But there’s a way a small step towards compulsory voting could have a big impact on the outcome of a presidential election.

“Because we have the electoral college, it does mean that there’s those few critical states and what they do essentially determines who wins the presidency,” he said.

Say a small but influential state such as Pennsylvania chooses to implement compulsory voting on its own.

“It would arise somewhat organically. You know, maybe one city does it first. And then other cities in the same state are doing it because they want to make sure that they’re equally represented. And then eventually maybe have a state doing it and so on.”

So slowly … town by town, city by city, state by state … the US might find a way to a future of compulsory voting.

And they might not even need a democracy sausage to do it.

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Early Voting in Florida Opens to Long Lines

Long lines of voters were seen in Weston, Florida, on Monday morning, October 19, as early voting began in the state ahead of the November 3 presidential election. Video filmed by Ade Ferro shows a line stretching from the entrance to the Weston Branch library, around the building, out the parking lot and continuing down the road. Credit: Ade Ferro via Storyful

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Why I’m voting no on Suffolk County ballot propositions – Long Island Business News

In this June 30, 2020, file photo, a box of absentee ballots wait to be counted at the Albany County Board of Elections in Albany, N.Y. New York will allow voters to request absentee ballots for the general election because of coronavirus under a new state law signed Thursday, Aug. 20. Lawmakers passed the bill last month, and voting rights groups have been calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to sign the legislation for weeks. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink, File)

Opinion: Executives and supervisors need that time to build a government that can not only get up and running, but also have the time to promulgate long-term policy for the residents of that town.

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States reporting massive turnout for early voting, mail-in ballots

FILE – In this Oct. 15, 2020, file photo, voters line up at an early voting satellite location at the Anne B. Day elementary school in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Michael Perez, File)

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UPDATED 8:33 AM PT – Saturday, October 17, 2020

Millions of voters have showed up at the polls and sent in their mail-in ballots in what’s being called an “unprecedented” early voting turnout. Concerns about the coronavirus and mail-in voting have been cited for the remarkable turnout.

According to recent reports, more than 21 million voters have cast their ballots either in person or through the mail so far. Around 1.4 million people had already voted by this time during 2016, accounting for more than 15 percent of the total votes during that election.

The Georgia state secretary said nearly 130,000 people cast ballots in the state Monday, smashing the nearly 91,000 votes cast on the first day of the 2016 election. One county said it saw a 484 percent increase from the first day of voting.

Georgia voters expressed a sense of urgency driving them to the polls, saying this election seems to be more complex due to the ongoing pandemic and the candidates.

“I would strongly recommend coming early and getting it done, that way you know it’s done,” stated Georgia resident Steve Butts. “It’s in the system, you don’t have to hear about it on the 6:00 o’clock news about ‘they found a burlap bag full of ballots’ in, you know, out in the woods somewhere.”

In Texas, where early voting started Tuesday, more than 1 million votes have already been cast in a record turnout. Nearly 17 million Texans registered to vote this year, which is up nearly 2 million since 2016.

In Ohio, nearly 200,000 residents cast early votes this week compared to around 64,000 during the same week in the last election.

Meanwhile in North Carolina, voters waited for up to three hours to cast their ballots in some areas when early voting started Thursday.

It’s a beautiful day, people are eager to vote,” said North Carolina resident Jason Roberts. ” If you wait and go next week, I think you’ll see the lines will not be nearly as long as they are today and it will be a much faster process for someone who doesn’t have the time to stand outside.”

According to reports, the number of first time voters choosing to vote early has more than doubled compared to 2016. More than 2 million infrequent voters have also cast ballots compared to 658,000 during the last election.

Officials said the steps taken by states to make it easier to register to vote and cast a ballot likely contributed to the increased turnout. In Virginia, for example, voters can now vote absentee without having to provide a reason and lawmakers have made Election Day a state holiday.

Registered Democrats are reportedly “significantly” outnumbering Republicans in this early turnout and have returned nearly 2.5 million more ballots. However, GOP officials said they are not concerned while pointing out a majority of Republican voters prefer to vote in person, especially on Election Day.

“This is a pattern we are seeing across other states as well — that Democrats in particular are very motivated to turnout, but they are also very motivated to either vote by mail or vote early,”stated Seth Masket, Director of the Center on American Politics, University of Denver. “There is a good deal of enthusiasm among Republicans as well, they are more interested in voting close to or on Election Day.”

One expert who tracks polling data said Democrats may be doing Republicans a favor by voting early thus clearing out polling places for Republicans to vote come Election Day.

RELATED: Thousands of Ohio voters receive the wrong mail-in ballot

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AFL Brownlow Medal 2020 | The odds, red carpet fashion, favourities, smokies, club-by-club voting and predictions

On the Monday night before the Grand Final, I’m usually shivering (as it’s normally September) on the red carpet at Crown. Tonight, I’m at home, watching the (limited) fashions as they roll in from the seven broadcast sites around the country, and on social media.

While there is no official red carpet at any of the events, and partners are only permitted at some of those, there is still sure to be plenty of glamour, even if it’s pared back a bit than usual.

Many of the partners, especially those in the Gold Coast hub, have had to improvise this year, using remote stylists and getting make-up tutorials over Zoom.

Read more about the preparations for his historic Brownlow “red carpet” here.

Jade Kisnorbo shows Mardi Dangerfield how to apply her make-up via Zoom.Credit:Justin McManus

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AFL Brownlow Medal 2020 | The odds, favourities, club-by-club voting and your downloadable guide

The Brownlow is going virtual on Sunday night. There’s also a virtual certainty to win.

Once again there’s a hot favourite for the most prized individual award in the AFL. This year it’s Brisbane Lions midfielder Lachie Neale, who has played a vital role in driving the Queensland outfit to the upper echelons of the AFL ladder.

Brisbane star Lachie Neale.Credit:Getty Images

In a shortened season, Neale could poll in the range of 25 votes from 17 matches. That’s good going. We’ve done some solid number crunching and there’s very few scenarios where the 27-year-old doesn’t win.

With our downloadable form guide, you can chart the game-by-game results of some of the leading chances, from Neale to Port Adelaide veteran Travis Boak, to this year’s potential bolters Christian Petracca and Jack Steele.

With the form guide in hand, sit back on Sunday night and wait and see whether Neale becomes the latest hot favourite to win, and also the newest first-time winner.

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ACB Confirmation To Early Voting

Week In Photos: ACB Confirmation To Early Voting
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From the confirmation hearings of Amy Coney Barrett to early voting, these are some of the most powerful photos of this week.

Posted on October 16, 2020, at 5:27 p.m. ET

Erin Schaff / Pool / Getty Images

Judge Amy Coney Barrett during the first day of her Senate confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on October 12, 2020.

Carlos Barria / Reuters

President Donald Trump takes part in a live one-hour NBC News town hall forum with a group of Florida voters in Miami, Florida, Oct. 15, 2020.

Samuel Corum / Getty Images

President Donald Trump addresses a rally in support of law and order on the South Lawn of the White House on October 10, 2020 in Washington, DC.

Helen H. Richardson / Getty Images

Go Nakamura / Reuters

Deirdre Barrett wears a protective mask as she waits in line to cast her ballot for the upcoming presidential election as early voting begins in Houston, Texas, October 13, 2020.

Gerry Broome / AP

Early voters wait to cast their ballots at the South Regional Library polling location in Durham, N.C., Oct. 15, 2020.

Adrees Latif / Reuters

A home is seen destroyed in the aftermath of Hurricane Delta in Creole, Louisiana, Oct. 10, 2020.

Jorge Silva / Reuters

A portrait of King Maha Vajiralongkorn is seen as pro-democracy demonstrators give a three-finger salute while marching during a Thai anti-government mass protest, in Bangkok, Thailand, Oct. 14, 2020.

Lillian Suwanrumpha / Getty Images

Pro-democracy protesters march towards the Government House during an anti-government rally in Bangkok on Oct.14, 2020.

Mladen Antonov / Getty Images

Pro-democracy protesters hold up their mobile phones as they gather for an anti-government rally in Bangkok on Oct. 16, 2020.

Ed Wray / Getty Images

Security guards from a Muslim organisation stand by barbed wire separating them from police guarding the area around the presidential palace during a demonstration against Indonesia’s recently passed omnibus law on October 13, 2020 in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Wisconsin Department Of Administ / Reuters

An overhead view shows a field hospital known as an Alternate Care Facility set up at the state fair ground as cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases spike in the state near Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S., October 12, 2020.

Lucas Barioulet / Getty Images

Medical staff members transport a patient at the intensive care unit of the Lariboisiere Hospital of the Assistance Publique – Hopitaux de Paris in Paris, on Oct. 14, 2020.

Eloisa Lopez / Reuters

Detained Filipino activist Reina Mae Nasino holds a flower during the burial of her three-month-old baby River, who died while she was in jail, in Manila North Cemetery, Philippines, Oct.16, 2020.

Marco Ugarte / AP

Mexican wrestler Mister Jerry floats with a boatful of marigold flowers in the famous floating gardens of Xochimilco, on the outskirts of Mexico City, Oct. 14, 2020.

Stephen Maturen / Getty Images

Balloons decorate a memorial site for George Floyd as people prepare to celebrate his birthday on October 14, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Gordwin Odhiambo / Getty Images

Residents of Kibera form a human-chain as they pass water to extinguish a fire that gutted informal homes n the Maranatha area in Nairobi on October 14, 2020. About fifty families were left homeless by the inferno.

Aris Messinis / Getty Images

A wounded soldier is getting treatment at the basement of a medical center outside the city of Stepanakert on Oct. 14, 2020, during the ongoing fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed region.

Bulent Kilic / Getty Images

Aybeniz Khasanova, mother of 29-years-old soldier killed during clashes with Armenia, cries next to his grave during the military conflict over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, in the city of Agdam on October 15, 2020.

Jorge Saenz / AP

Men fish from a sand bank on the Paraguay River, taking advantage of the historical drop of the water level, at San Antonio, Paraguay, Oct. 15, 2020.

Marco Longari / Getty Images

An aerial view shows a dried up pond set on farmland outside Senekal, South Africa, on October 15, 2020.

James D. Morgan / Getty Images

Passengers onboard a a flight as flies over Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Northern Territories, Oct. 10, 2020 in Uluru, Australia. With border closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic putting a halt on travel, the Qantas Great Southern Land Scenic flight will take 150 passengers on an aerial tour over iconic Australian destinations.

Karim Sahib / Getty Images

A trainer plays ball with a white lion at the AlBuqaish private zoo in the Emirate of Sharjah on October 15, 2020.

John Wessels / Getty Images

A supporter for Guinea President Alpha Conde reacts during a campaign rally in Conakry on October 15, 2020.

Siegfried Modola / Getty Images

A dog sniffs out COVID-19 during a training at the national veterinary school of Alfort on October 15, 2020 in Paris, France. Researchers around the world are training canines to detect COVID-19.

Brian Inganga / AP

Schoolchildren joke around and play at the Olympic Primary School in Kibera, Kenya, Oct. 12, 2020.

BuzzFeed News’ FinCEN Files investigation exposed massive financial corruption on a historic global scale. Want to support our journalism? Become a BuzzFeed News member.

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NY officials optimistic about fixes to mail-in voting system – Long Island Business News

With the clock ticking down to Election Day, officials are cautiously optimistic New York has fixed problems with mail-in voting that led to delays and disenfranchisement in a rocky June primary.

As many as 4 to 5 million New Yorkers are expected to cast absentee ballots after Gov. Andrew Cuomo authorized their widespread use because of the coronavirus pandemic.

In the primary, two out of five votes were cast by mail, an unprecedented ratio that strained a system that normally handles fewer than 1 in 20 votes.

Local election boards struggled to get ballots into voters’ hands on time. There was confusion about ballots arriving without a postmark to indicate whether they had been mailed by Election Day. Thousands of mailed ballots were disqualified over technical issues, like missing signatures.

But after a summer of refinements, officials say the state is better prepared.

“I don’t anticipate that it’s going to be perfect,” state board of election commissioner Douglas Kellner said. “But I do think it will be pretty good.”

Among the fixes:

—The state let voters request absentee ballots earlier — in late August, rather than early October.

—It redesigned ballot envelopes to make it clear where voters must put their signature.

—Some archaic reasons for rejected ballots are gone.

—Absentee ballots will no longer be disqualified if someone changes the color of their ink or switches from a pen to a pencil while filling out the form.

—In maybe the biggest change, election officials must now notify voters by phone or email within 24 hours if there is a problem with their ballot. Voters will get either five or seven days to fix problems, depending on when their ballot arrived at the elections office.

Before those changes, New York’s rate of rejected absentee ballots had been among the nation’s highest. During the 2018 midterm elections, 34,095 absentee ballots — nearly 14% of those cast — were disqualified by elections officials, according to advocacy group League of Women Voters.

“There are always problems with every human system, but the good news is that there’s ample time to fix them and voters have plenty of options,” Common Cause New York Executive Director Susan Lerner said. “The most important thing is to make a plan to vote now, and then have a back-up plan in case you need it.”

Concerns remain.

New York is the largest of over two dozen states, including Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Ohio, where voters can request an absentee ballot as late as Oct. 27 — seven days before the election.

That leaves little time for officials to process an application and mail out the ballot in time for the voter to have it back in the mail by Election Day.

Between 100,000 to 200,000 voters didn’t receive their absentee ballot in time for the June primary, according to Kellner.

He urged voters to request and mail back ballots early.

“It’s time for voters to make their decision on how they’re going to vote now and not wait until the last minute,” he said.

For the primary, the state also inadvertently created a problem by sending voters a postage-paid return envelope for their absentee ballot. Because postage wasn’t required, postal workers in Brooklyn then failed to put a postmark on nearly 4,900 of those envelopes, leading to uncertainty about whether they were mailed by an Election Day deadline.

For the general election, voters will have to buy stamps. Additionally, a new law allows ballots without a postmark to be counted, as long as they are received no later than a day after Election Day.

Two dozen voters and candidates worried about postal delays have asked a federal court to extend that deadline to seven days.

Statewide, nearly 1.4 million people have requested an absentee ballot so far, officials said.

In New York City, elections officials are trying to ensure a major mishap doesn’t wind up costing people their vote. A printing error meant that nearly 100,000 ballots initially sent to general election voters in the city displayed the wrong names on ballot envelopes.

Replacement ballots were sent out, and officials have promised that people who mailed back ballots in the misprinted envelopes will have a chance to correct the problem.

New Yorkers can also vote early, in-person, this year between Oct. 24 and Nov. 1. Marla Garfield, 46, of Brooklyn, said she received her replacement absentee ballot quickly but plans to now drop off her ballot herself during the early voting period to make sure there are no issues.

“You just hope that they have a system in place for it to not be a problem when we go vote,” she said.

Cost-cutting at the U.S. Postal Service has led to concerns that some ballots mailed close to the deadline will be delayed, but Kellner said he was “confident that the post office is taking those obligations seriously and doing what they reasonably can to make sure that all election mail will be properly and efficiently processed.”

Unlike some other states, New York hasn’t expanded the use of ballot drop boxes besides the usual locations found at voting sites and local election offices.

Once the votes are in, local elections boards face the challenge of counting them. That process took weeks in some contests during the primary. Delays were compounded by insufficient staff and general inexperience in handling so many mailed-in votes.

“But I don’t expect that to be repeated for the general election,” Kellner said. He said many boards have added staff and bought time-saving equipment.

Onondaga County Elections Commissioner Dustin Czarny said nearly 50,000 out of the 120,000 absentee ballots he expects to get in the mail have already come in.

He’s still concerned with the board’s ability to afford all the extra work needed to process those votes, saying they could use more state funding.

“We’re having to basically throw money and bodies at the situation to try to help ourselves,” Czarny said.

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Voters Line New Orleans Block as Early Voting Kicks Off in Louisiana


Colorado Firefighters Perform Backburning Operation on Cameron Peak Fire

Firefighters worked into the early hours of Thursday, October 15, on backburning operations to try to prevent the spread of the Cameron Peak Fire in northern Colorado, fire officials said. A Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control (DFPC) spokesperson said this footage shows the DFPC Module 11 crew performing backburning operations ahead of the wildfire. DFPC Module 11 shared the footage on Instagram and said it was filmed in Bellvue, a small community near the fire. “These efforts aimed to eliminate the remaining fuel between the main body of the fire and the handline previously constructed by firefighters,” a DFPC spokesperson said. The Cameron Peak Fire has burned 167,153 acres and was 56 percent contained as of Friday, according to reports. Credit: @dfpc_mod_11 via Storyful

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