Words that work: "Appropriate technology"

I was surprised—but probably shouldn’t have been—by a 20-something activist in one of Friday’s election-integrity workshops at the Democracy Convention in Madison last week. He had politely listened to about 15 minutes of discussion before he offered his own opinion: “I would be okay with Internet voting,” he said, “if I could print and keep a copy of my ballot.” Of course, just one question—

“And how would that give you any confidence your vote had been transmitted or counted accurately?”—made him see the opportunity that inappropriate use of technology provides to those with the motive and money to steal elections.

Our fellow citizens love technology but are not stupid. We just have to help them think it through. Discussions at last week’s convention—which contained a strong election-integrity track, thanks to Victoria Collier's efforts—produced several simple pointers for how we can make the election integrity message more accessible to people who are not yet on board.

Here’s one: Don't think or talk like a Luddite. Most Americans know at least one person who still curses ATMs because he prefers talking to tellers. We might be willing to listen to those curmudgeons’ opinions on other things, but we tune them out when the discussion turns to technology. So, any sentence containing the phrase “hand-counted paper ballots” marks the speaker as a technology curmudgeon and closes a lot of eardrums.

Here’s what we want: Appropriate use of technology.

Wisconsin’s own John Washburn reminded us that none of us are opposed to using technology in elections. A pen or pencil used to mark a paper ballot is technology of a sort, and comes with its own vulnerabilities. You might accidentally poke it through the ballot and invalidate your vote, or impulsively use it to poke the ‘observer’ who is trying to intimidate you at the polling place. Any tool or process is technology, and every technology has its own set of risks and benefits.

So rather than demanding hand-counted paper ballots, we can more productively advocate for “appropriate technology.” What technology is appropriate for our elections? And what is prudent, responsible management of that technology?

If we think it through, we typically find that our fellow citizens already know the common-sense basics about appropriate use of elections technology: 

  • Any software used to count our votes shouldn’t be written and managed in secret.
  • Public officials need publicly to verify the integrity of any software and every computer that counts our votes.
  • We need to keep a public owned record of our votes separate from anything the computers created.
  • And most importantly, someone needs to verify the tabulators’ accuracy before the alleged winners are sworn in to office.

And that will likely be very useful in getting every sensible citizen to perceive the value in the words “voter-marked paper ballot.”

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