Thursday, November 3, 2011

Mail/internet voting v. the secret ballot [Voting 01]

Voting by mail has surprisingly few critics.  I want to change that before neighborhood polling places disappear forever.

When people vote in voting booths, they can disagree with powerful members of their households -- a spouse, sibling, parent, child, caregiver, etc. -- and it is nobody's business but their own.  That is the beauty of the secret ballot.  People can say they voted for the family favorite, but they don't have to do it.

When, however, ballots must be completed at home -- the usual image is that everyone sits around the kitchen table and says, 'Who did you choose for dog catcher?' -- the opportunity to vote independently may be severely compromised.  Maybe not in my household or yours, but definitely in some. Once voting by mail or the internet becomes the only way to vote, that problem could become serious.
What about in Oregon, where for several years now voting by mail (VBM) has been the only way to vote?  Well, nobody knows, because as far as I can tell nobody ever thought to find out.  See next post about VBM, coercion, and an idea for some research.
Consider also some of the countries to which we hope to export democracy, countries where restrictions on women's rights still exist.  In Saudi Arabia, for example, the King recently announced that women will finally have the right to vote starting in 2015.  They still can't drive a car, however.  I hope that in 2015 there are private voting booths at polling places that are within walking distance of home.  Otherwise, the women's right to vote may have little substance left.

Would web-voting be better than VBM?  Probably not. Maybe people can vote on their own computers without anyone else looking over their shoulders, but maybe not.  If they get away with it this time, they may not be so lucky, or so fearless, next time.

Sure, some household powerfuls will appreciate that the secret ballot is important to our democracy and they will affirmatively want the rest of the family to think independently.  But some will think they have a right to control behavior, including thinking and voting, because they provide food, clothing and shelter.  Without the safety of a publicly-provided, privacy-insured voting booth, their wishes can become, quite literally, law.

Instead of one person, one vote, we will have one household, multiple votes.  And some in our society will be disenfranchised.

Who we elect will be affected, too.  The recipients of these unwilling votes are more likely to have greater respect for power than for democracy, and less fear of despotism than of the will of the people.
I understand that providing physical polling sites is expensive, and that mail/web voting helps local governments save money.  That's finance.  That's not our national values.  One person, one independent vote, is something we thought we treasured.  We could be in the process of relinquishing it.  And other countries, importing our kind of democracy, may end up with an inferior substitute.

We need to protect the secret ballot.  That means making sure it can be kept secret.  From big brother, not just Big Brother.
11/3/11 rjm
rev 11/6/11

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