Group proposes new way to pick the president

Americans Elect is nominating its presidential candidate via online convention.

by Luke Miller

As Americans become increasingly dissatisfied with political leadership in Washington, some are looking for change in untested waters.

One group, Washington, D.C.,-based Americans Elect, is hoping to harness the power of technology as a new means for nominating a presidential candidate.

The group is forming a third presidential ticket that they hope will be on the ballot in all 50 states. The ticket will be created through an online national convention — the first of its kind.

“Americans Elect is developing a new way to pick a president,” said Nick Troiano, national campus director for Americans Elect.

Americans Elect is organized so that any registered voter, regardless of party affiliation or state, can go online and sign up to become a delegate to the convention.

Troiano said delegates will be responsible for nominating candidates, crafting a platform of questions that candidates must answer and eventually choosing a nominee. In April, the group will begin narrowing its field of candidates.

Meanwhile, major candidates have been participating in caucuses and primaries across the country and Super Tuesday, when 10 states hold caucuses and primaries is March 6.

The nominee must select a vice-presidential candidate who is from a different political party.

All the voting and nominating in this process will be done through the Internet.

“This is really a way of reimaging our democracy in the 21st century,” Troiano said. “Why not leverage [the Internet] to not only increase participation, but also level the playing field so that voters have more than just two choices?”

The idea of using the Internet for voting isn’t new. For more than a decade, people around the world have been debating the merits of such a system.

Estonia has been using a partial Internet voting system since 2005.

Electronic voting, or I-voting,  is one of the ways Estonians can vote. Citizens can still cast a traditional ballot.

I-voting was first introduced in Estonia in its 2005 local elections, when more than 9,000 votes were cast via the Internet.

In March 2011, Estonia held parliamentary elections, marking the fifth time the country has used its electronic voting system as an option for citizens. More than 140,000 I-votes were cast, representing more than 24 percent of ballots.

Despite the rising potential of an Internet vote, many still don’t feel totally comfortable with the system.

Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie  was quick to point out two flaws with an Internet election process: security and voting accuracy.

If hackers were able to compromise the security of the voting system, it could significantly affect results. Recent high-profile hackings by groups like Anonymous highlight the shortfalls of online security.

Troiano doesn’t believe people should be worried about this perceived threat.

“We shop online, we bank online, we use our credit cards online. The technology exists to secure transactions online, why can’t we also nominate a president online?”

Internet voting is also potentially unsound due to its lack of accountability. With an Internet vote, there would not be hard ballots to recount the votes if necessary.

This could create an opportunity for a lack of accuracy and no way to confirm results, Ritchie said. He believes Internet voting’s lack of integrity will prevent the Internet from ever being a predominant voting method.

“There’s still a need for some mechanism that enables an effective audit or verification of the results,” said Steve Kelley, director of Center for Science, Technology, and Public Policy at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

However, Kelley said Internet voting will become prevalent in society in time.

“The idea of casting ballots online is probably going to have its day, but there are hurdles to doing that,” said Larry Jacobs, a political science professor at the Humphrey School.

Internet voting could make voting tougher for some citizens if it were implemented today.

A recent study from Connect Minnesota found that only 53 percent of people 65 and older own a computer.

Even though they could go to a library or other public place to use one, people without computer access would still be at a significant disadvantage when it comes to voting, Kelley said.

He said that some households currently lack access to technology for various economic or social reasons, but that he expects computer use to become more prevalent in the future.

Troiano believes that despite its potential flaws, Americans Elect can use the Internet to change the current system.

“One day we’ll all vote this way. Why not start now when our country can really use it?”