Internet voting on trial: Problem or Panacea for Democracy?

Judge and Jury

The 23rd Annual Genesys Partners Venture Dinner and Forum — Genesys XXIII– was held Tuesday night at the Union League Club in New York.  The event was attended by approximately 100 invited venture capitalists, investors, journalists, entrepreneurs, and industry executives. The Forum preceeding the reception and dinner was called “Internet voting on trial: Problem or Panacea for Democracy?” 

Genesys CEO, Jim Kollegger, kicked off the forum saying, “When 100 million eligible voters don’t show up, it’s time to re-examine Democracy’s most important processes and create better voting solutions.” Ken Auletta (best-selling author and journalist for The New Yorker) then conducted a mock trial of Internet voting with a panel that included Greg Miller, Co-founder of voting organization OSET– Open Systems Election Technology Foundation, Minerva Tantoco, Senior Advisor, Future \Perfect Ventures and Chief Technology Officer, City Strategies, LLC, and myself.

Ken Auletta cross-examined all three of us on technology solutions that could enlarge the voting base, privacy and security concerns, and related issues. Greg and I agreed on the need for better voting infrastructure, but disagreed on what it will take to make Internet voting a reality. Minerva added a balanced view of the need for cultural change and voter education. It was a lively debate.

Ken summarized the two opposing positions as Internet voting should be sooner rather than later as I advocated, or later rather than sooner as Greg advocated. In the interest of time Ken declared the show of hands a tie, but it was clear to me looking out at the audience it was more like 60/40 or even 70/30 in favor of sooner rather than later. This would not be surprising from an audience of venture capitalists very familiar with investing in new ideas and changes in paradigms.

Jim Kollegger offered some post trial commentary.

How often have we heard “if we can land on the moon, why can’t we…”fill in the blank.” In this case, why can’t we have a simple, tamper-proof, democratic voting system powered by the amazing technology that built the Internet, got us to the edge of deep space, and put a Cray supercomputer in everyone’s jeans pocket. The answer, of course, lies not with technology but with political will. Or Attitude, as John Patrick would say. Despite tremendous strides in technology, we still rely on a patch-quilt of chad-driven, #2 pencil-coded, rickety array of machines for the most fundamental of democracy’s tools–voting.

In Election Attitude – How Internet Voting Leads to a Stronger Democracy and in the trial, John made a strong case why we can’t afford to wait. The U.S. ranks 31st among industrialized nations in voter participation; 100 million people do not vote, millions of votes are lost because many cannot get to the polling places. Our military are effectively disenfranchised by the antiquated system. A small group of well-intentioned technologists are lobbying against Internet based voting because of security issues, forgetting that current systems are highly vulnerable. As Internet pioneer Vint Cerf said on the back cover of Election Attitude, “We can do this.” The same partnership that got us to the Moon, can get us powerful voting solutions. What say you,Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk?