Belying their state’s staid and conservative image, Iowa Democrats are investigating whether to bring voting into the 21st century, by allowing votes to be cast online for the 2016 caucuses.
Bringing the franchise online would allow Democrats to create a more inclusive caucus process. Members of the military serving outside of the state wouldn’t be shut out. The elderly and infirm would still have a voice. Working people and those caring for families would be embraced.
In short, the Internet could eventually deliver on the promise of full voter participation.
No decision has been made in Iowa, but it is only natural that Internet voting is in our future. Financial institutions, from banks to the New York Stock Exchange, already securely move trillions of dollars via fiber optics. Breaches in security usually come from third parties, such as retailers like Target failing to properly secure stored credit card numbers. But when was the last time Goldman Sachs was hacked? We have the technology and know-how to secure our most vital digital assets. Creating an online voting system, while not trivial, would be possible given current technology, and that technology improves every day.
Of course, none of this will happen any time soon, and the problem isn’t technology — it’s that online voting would spike voter participation, largely from people who make up the Democratic coalition.
According to Pew Research, 97 percent of Americans ages 18 to 29 use the Internet, email or mobile devices to go online. That number is only 57 percent for those over the age of 65. In 2012, 37 percent of voters ages 18-29 voted for Mitt Romney, while 56 percent of those over the age of 65 did. Republicans, naturally, are terrified of more young people voting.
Likewise, the Internet is a huge equalizer on race. Mobile devices have all but erased the historical digital divide that kept lower-income Americans offline. According to Pew Research, 85 percent of whites are online, but so are 83 percent of Latinos and 81 percent of African-Americans. There’s a gap, but it’s slight. And while less affluent groups might not be sporting laptops, they make up for it with smartphone adoption. African-Americans lead the pack with 64 percent adoption, followed by Latinos at 60 percent and whites at 53 percent.
No matter how you slice the Internet picture, it’s clear that Republicans have nothing to gain by increasing the franchise, and particularly by doing so online.
Thus, it’s not surprising to see Republicans already delegitimizing the idea before it gets any traction. “I think it’s a very bad idea,” says Hans von Spakovsky from the Heritage Foundation. “Computer experts basically say the Internet has such fundamental security vulnerabilities.” Given his history as former President George W. Bush’s chief vote suppressor at the Justice Department — a man whose career has been largely dedicated to making it difficult for voters to go to the polls — it makes sense that von Spakovsky would be paying close attention.
It’s no secret that the fewer people who vote, the better Republicans do in elections. It’s why Republicans work so hard to limit voting hours, restrict early voting and impose onerous conditions to cast a ballot. It’s the reason 2014 is even competitive.
“Democrats are always looking at ways to get more people in 2016 to participate in the Democratic process,” said an Iowa Democratic Party spokeswoman, speaking to the broader (small “d”) democratic ideal.
Internet voting would accomplish that, which is why Republicans will never embrace it.
Moulitsas is the founder and publisher of Daily Kos.