For all that has been written and said about the result of the 2016 Presidential election, there are more than 95 million Americans whose opinion was never heard: those who didn’t vote. In percentage terms that figure is about on the same level as the turnout for the 2012 election, and well below the numbers who voted in 2008 and 2004.
A number of those who didn’t cast a ballot will have done so for political reasons, but other potential voters were discouraged from voting by the physical chore of having to attend their local polling booth on Election Day.
These are the people who found it too difficult to break away from work or family commitments, and those who were put off by the hours-long lines that clog up polling stations. These same people will be empowered to vote in future elections if we can make the most of what video conferencing has to offer.
How to Vote Online with Video Calling
In its simplest form, voting remotely with a video call could just mean replicating the current in-person process over the internet.
It would need to be built around a central, dedicated web page that provided access and information on how to vote. Fortunately, just about every government agency has already embraced the internet as a means to communicate and interact with people, so there’s no great ideological chasm to leap over.
This virtual voting system would likely need to use mirror sites, probably divided up by state, to spread voter traffic and prevent the system from crashing. Once on the site, after you’ve entered your basic personal information, you could be placed into a virtual line that could provide you with an approximate time for the wait, so you could busy yourself with other tasks while “standing” in line.
When your turn comes you’d prove your identification and be given a link to an electronic ballot so you could cast your vote with the same ease as any touch-screen or clickable online survey. It seems like a straightforward process, but there are still some important problems around security and access that need to be considered.
Facial Recognition for Secured Online Votes
We’ve argued before that emerging facial recognition technology could be the safest way to conduct online banking in the future. It is already being tested in airports and international border crossings as an improved form of ID verification.
The technology is also gaining traction as a social media feature. Russian app FindFace made headlines this year for its ability to identify strangers in a public place at a 70% success rate, while Facebook recently bought facial recognition startup FacioMetrics with a view to further complicating its social network.
So it’s not hard to imagine such a service could be employed to verify the ID of online voters. It would let virtual polling station workers quickly match the face of a video caller with government-held visual information, such as a driver’s license or passport, in a way similar to the way airport security employees currently compare you to your photo ID. This would provide a level of security even greater than the measures currently employed on the ground at voting booths.
To make a facial-recognition video voting system as accessible as the bricks-and-mortar version it would have to be available across smartphones and tablets, as well as PCs and laptops. There are plenty of video conferencing platforms that can already pull off that trick, and making the voting service browser-based would mean people wouldn’t need to download an application or sign up for a subscription.
Increasing Voter Turnout with Video Conferencing
On a future Election Day, then, you could log on to your voting portal through a desktop at work, a laptop at home, or the smartphone in your pocket while you drag the kids around the supermarket, then enter your particulars and go about your day as you wait to be called up to vote.
A team of trained, video-enabled call center voting officers would match your name and address to the correct ballot for your district, and talk you through the process face-to-face.
Using a generic, third-party online ballot similar to Survey Monkey (which is already supplying polling data, by the way) your vote would remain as anonymous as that sheet you currently slide into the scanner. Once your name has been checked off the voter register you’d be given a link to a single-use survey disconnected from the initial procedure.
And you’re done. There’d be no need to drop everything and wait in a line, no need to face the pollsters and party boosters down at the booths, and at least one less reason not to cast your vote and have your say on Election Day.