Press 1 for Democracy

Wednesday, November 1st 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

On Tuesday less than half of Americans eligible to vote will likely determine the next President. Voter turnout in the United States is the second worst in the world, thanks to some help from Botswana.

But rather than lament the decline of participatory democracy, let's make it easier to participate. One easy way to do this is to allow people to vote remotely. I have a daring high-tech plan to make it happen, using this nifty device a guy named Bell came up with a few years back – the telephone.

Today millions of American's use the phone to pay their bills, register for classes, and place catalog orders – isn’t it about time we use this radical technology to make voting easier as well?

Some people argue that voting should not be as casual an event as ordering a pizza. I couldn't disagree more - what a difference it would make if people could vote as comfortably and easily as they ordered in for dinner and not have to choose between civic duty and the demands of work and family. If the goal is to make voting difficult so that only the truly determined are heard, we might as well reinstate the poll tax and literacy test. (And while we’re at it, we could add trivia quizzes; put the ballots in teeny tiny print and make it illegal to park within a half mile – we’ve barely scratched the surface.)

Others have called for voting over the Internet, but this raises serious questions about unequal access because just 50% of Americans have Internet access – it's like putting a voting booth only in households that make $50,000 or more a year.

It’s also not necessary as we already have a great communications tool found in 94% of American households. For over thirty years phones have been used to transmit personal credit card information, and people would require no special training to learn how to use its 12 buttons.

How would it work?

Each registered voter would be sent several unique identifying numbers via their postal address, similar to the pin number you use to access your ATM.
On election day, voters would have the choice of going down to the local polling station or simply calling a designated phone number and following the voice prompts.
Those wishing to write in their vote would leave a voice mail message to be hand counted by election officials.
Not only could phone voting help reduce the $1 billion cost of administering elections, it could also be done from virtually anywhere, including internationally for people stationed or traveling overseas. Another major benefit would be easier ballot access for the disabled, including the 8 million blind Americans of voting age.

Voting by phone would also enable citizens to verify that their votes were actually counted – something that is almost impossible to do with current election technology – and not misplaced by well-meaning but poorly trained election volunteers.

No longer would busy but concerned citizens have to leave work or kids at home to wait in line to cast a ballot at the local elementary school; voters could cast their ballots wherever they happened to be – even stuck in traffic.

And why are elections on Tuesdays anyway?

Alex Sheshunoff, an Austin, Texas native, is the founder of E-The, a non-partisan consortium of 400 media sites enabling Internet users to communicate and interact with over 170,000 federal, state, and local officials.