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Academic Discussion sample responses: e-voting


Online voting

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Professor: Will e-voting enhance democratic processes?

Kelly: No, it can be hacked by bad actors, so people will distrust the election results. So traditional voting is better

Andrew: Yes, e-voting will allow increased participation from underrepresented demographics, like young people.

response 1

Agreeing with Andrew, I believe that e-voting has the potential to significantly enhance democratic processes. Under the traditional voting method, voters have to physically go to a polling place to cast their ballots. This method can be inconvenient for voters as they may have to travel to a polling place and wait in line. Some eligible voters may not be able to vote at all because they suffer from physical disabilities, because they live far from the polling stations or because they can’t afford to take time off work. By contrast, e-voting allows people to cast their ballots electronically. Since almost all people nowadays have computers or cell phones, they can conveniently vote at home, at the office, at school, at a coffee shop or anywhere they are. In this way, digital voting will increase democratic participation. Indeed, some studies have shown that, since Estonia, the first country in the world to implement the online voting system, has allowed its citizens to vote online, the participation rate has significantly increased. Estonia's online voting system is based on a distributed ledger technology called blockchain. This technology ensures that the votes are secure and tamper-proof. Given that online voting is a secure and convenient way for citizens to vote, our nation should follow suit.

response 2

Obviously, the e-voting method can provide an unprecedented convenience for most people since all they need is an internet-enabled device, which they already have. Furthermore, online voting may expedite result tabulation and reduce the chances of human errors inherent in manual counting. However, I am not sure whether e-voting will enhance the democratic procedure. I think to definitively answer this question, we need to examine whether the e-voting method satisfies the fundamental requirements of democratic voting. As a voting method, the Athenians of antiquity, the fathers of democracy, tossed marked stones into urns. They used this method to ensure these ideals: one person one vote, voter anonymity, accuracy in counted votes, security of the system, and prevention of fraud. Compared with the method of simply counting the cast stones, the e-voting method relies on complex software as it needs to achieve both voter anonymity and voting security at once. This complexity means that voters have no understanding of how the voting software works. This public ignorance on the technology can result in vulnerability to the system. For instance, a bad actor at the software company can easily manipulate the software to produce fraudulent results. Even a voting system backed by the blockchain technology, regarded as the most secure one currently, is not immune to hacking as there have been a number of successful hacks of blockchain-based systems. These hackings are mostly done due to human error such as phishing or social engineering which involves tricking the victim into giving up some critical information. These vulnerabilities could be exploited by hackers to gain access to the voting system. With e-voting, there is no paper trail, no verification, and thus there is no scrutiny of the processes. Clearly, e-voting fails to satisfy the standards set by the Greek democracy. For this reason, I do not think e-voting should be adopted.

response 3

Agreeing with Kelly, I do not believe that e-voting would enhance the democratic process. On the contrary, I feel that it can be a threat to democracy as a whole. The fundamental principle of the democratic process is the free and fair election, which means that all eligible voters have the opportunity to vote freely, without intimidation or interference, and the votes are counted accurately and fairly. The e-voting method can turn out to be neither free nor fair. I argue that online voting is not free since online voting could disenfranchise certain groups of voters, such as those who do not have access to the internet or who are not comfortable with using computers. In this way, the poor and the elderly might not be able to participate in the democratic process under the online voting system. This is contrary to the traditional system where people volunteer to drive the elderly or handicapped to the polls as everyone views an election day as a day to celebrate democracy, with the spirit of the more the merrier. 

I also argue that online voting is not fair for the lack of transparency. With traditional paper-based voting, voters can see people counting the ballots. But with online voting, the process being hidden in the black box software, verifying that the result is the accurate counting of votes is almost impossible. The coding of the voting software itself could be defective as web applications and mobile apps are especially prone to have bugs. More worrisome is the potential for cyberattacks. A malicious actor can change the outcome of the election result at her fingertips. That fairness is done is not enough. That fairness is done needs to be seen to be done. In other words, people need to be able to trust a democratic process, and when the process is questioned, so is democracy. Even with a transparent system, a demagogue can lead an angry mob into a riot, as happened in the US recently. When a system lacks transparency, he could lead the nation into a civil war, possibly toppling a whole country. 

Voting is a civic duty as much as a civic right. Carrying out one’s duty inevitably entails some burden. However, the inconvenience from voting under the traditional method is infinitesimal compared with the aforementioned threats of e-voting. 

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