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Technology can make elections more accountable to the public, or less transparent, depending on how it is used.

Technology to improve public accountability and transparency of elections:

Technologies to enable on-the-spot video or photo capture of results, processes, or irregularities can help enormously to deter misconduct.

Rapid, dispersed communication, enabled through electronic communication, can time-stamp information, making it more difficult to successfully alter, or deny, the information later.

• Text blasts to poll workers can help elections administrators deal immediately with any unexpected election day problems.

• Distributing precinct results via Twitter can help everyone know what the results were before they entered the central tabulation phase.

• Spreadsheets and databases can help sort and analyze large quantities of information quickly to identify anomalies or statistical irregularities.

• Ballot scanners which capture images of every ballot can provide a cross-check to the counting mechanism, when the public is allowed to get copies of the ballot images.

• Live online video surveillance recording can provide many eyes on the process, to see who is doing what and when.

Other applications of technology present challenges for transparency:

• Software-driven counting, which removes the counting process from public view can make it very difficult for independent observers, and candidates, to know whether the reported count is true.

• Creating technologies that place essential processes into the hands of a few centralize opportunity, to suppress votes, add votes, or change votes. Technology can enable unobserved control over essential parts of the election: Who can vote, who did vote, counting of the vote, and chain of custody.

• Technology can also strip away political privacy, making certain classes of individuals privy to what should be a secret ballot.

New ways to get involved:

Election integrity actions present fascinating ways for individuals with a technology background to become involved — through vigilance over technologies that remove transparency or privacy, or with creative ways to use technology to crowd-source observation.

At the same time, a truly democratic system must not require special expertise to observe essential processes in the election. When developing technologies to improve elections, developers must keep in mind that election transparency belongs to the public at large and not to a special class of persons.

 

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