Technology

Voters ought to refuse to attribute any electoral disruption to political interference

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Track shipment tracking. Ballot tracking software and intelligent mail barcodes (IMb), used by the U.S. Postal Service to sort and track mail, can make mail-in voting more transparent and accountable. This technology can show voters the whereabouts of their ballot paper as it travels through the postal system. Currently, more than 45 states offer a version of this service. But not all states do this, which leaves some voters in the dark. This can make these voters more prone to disinformation about how to use their ballot papers, especially if this is their first time voting by mail.

Report results. Modern voting technology can scan hundreds of postal ballot slips per minute to record the choices made by voters. In addition, polling officers can digitally assess questionable voter brands without ever having to process the physical ballot papers themselves. This way we can count the voices faster using the scanning technology.

Unfortunately, outdated guidelines in some states are slowing this process down. In most states, election officials can begin scanning postal ballot papers weeks before election day. In other states (including Pennsylvania and Wisconsin) officials will have to wait until election day to begin opening. Such guidelines create a bottleneck in the counting process and drag it out well after Election Day, thereby widening the window into which the election disinformation could spread.

All three examples show how voting technology, when used appropriately, can facilitate voting. In the end, however, technology will neither make nor break the choice. Instead, a combination of policies, procedures, technology, and personnel influences the recording of the vote. It is important for voters to maintain perspective: technology and process errors are likely just mistakes, not evidence of political calamity. To tell the difference, voters should rely on trusted sources, namely state and local electoral officials, who are at the forefront of democracy.

Edward Perez is an expert in election technology and election administration. He is global director of technology development at the OSET Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit organization engaged in electoral infrastructure research and public technology development.

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Steven Gregory