Internet Voting a Threat to Democracy

Matrix: The Magazine for Leaders in Higher Education, October 2000 | Go to article overview

Internet Voting a Threat to Democracy


From the Dartmouth, the student newspaper of Dartmouth College, via

With the advent of the Internet in the 1970s and its massive expansion in the 1990s, e-technology is poised to revolutionize certain very basic facets of American society. In most respects, the Internet represents a benign development--contrary to popular belief, recent studies suggest that, in fact, Internet users are not suffering from a decrease in social interaction and actually report a closer network of friends and family than do non-users.

But I urge that we proceed with caution in this e-revolution.

One development in particular, Internet voting, raises serious questions about how deeply we want the Internet to pervade our lives. The prospect of voting from your personal computer is not that far off. Registered Democrats in Arizona were able to cast their votes online in that state's primary this year, and experts predict that we will be able to cast our votes online in the 2008 presidential election. As Dartmouth students whose lives are run entirely by computers, this represents a welcome convenience, but the prospect of online voting in a national contest raises serious questions about democracy in the United States.

In the 20th century, we have taken great steps towards maintaining the secrecy of ballots and enfranchising all segments of the population. Online voting represents a serious threat to both of these efforts. At a voting place, voters enter a private booth and cast their vote free from the prying eyes of those who would like to influence them. If a voter is able to log on to the Internet and cast their vote electronically from any computer, there is no means to insure that his or her union leader, husband or wife, friend or foe is not standing beside them coercing them to vote for a certain candidate. A computer screen offers no assurances of a secret ballot. Is the right to vote free from coercion not essential to the functioning of a democracy?

Also, in this year's campaign we've heard a great deal about the burgeoning digital divide in America. Internet users tend to be white and middle-to-upper class. Clearly, providing online voting enfranchises one segment of the population without concurrent increases for other segments of the population. …

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