Primary election demonstrates the advantages of online voting
By Jeff Mapes
It's an open question what the Independent Party of Oregon accomplished with the primary election that concluded Friday. The leadership of the party skews to the left, but conservatives won several of the nominations.
Linda Williams, the party's chairwoman, said she hopes that the nominees - most of whom actually belong to other parties - will take up the Independent Party's call for election and campaign-finance reform. But she acknowledged that it's too soon to know if that will happen.
But the primary did show off some of the advantages of online voting. It's the first such election I saw, and - on the surface at least - it was impressive.
The firm, San Diego-based Everyone Counts, produced a report of the final results (with the exception of the write-in votes) just an hour after the voting ended at 5 p.m. It basically only took one worker fiddling with a couple of laptops.
Williams said the party conducted the entire election for about $15,000 to $16,000 - and half that cost was mailing individual passcodes to the party's nearly 56,000 registered voters.
Paul DeGregorio, the company's chief elections officer, said his firm conducted more than 40 online elections last year. Their work range from corporate and union votes to handling nominations for the Green Party in Canada and the Labor Party in the United Kingdom.
"It is substantially cheaper," he said, noting that jurisdictions don't have to pay the cost of printing and processing paper ballots. He said that Oregon's vote-by-mail system is uniquely positioned to eventually move to online voting.
Instead of sending voters a ballot, he said, you simply send a passcode they can use to vote online. For security purposes, voters also have to enter some other bit of personal identification.
In the Independent Party election, voters had to enter their individual passcode as well as date of birth.
Right about now, I can imagine that there are some readers itching to jump to their keyboards and explain how this will just invite fraud (which some folks already think is a problem with mail voting).
They may be right, but look how much else we've moved online. I never thought 20 years ago that I would be doing my banking or buying my airline tickets over the internet.
Officials from the Multnomah and Clackamas County elections offices showed up to watch the internet voting. They said they were particularly interested in using internet voting for military and other overseas voters. It's not uncommon, they said, for military voters to face such huge mail delays that they can't get their ballot back in time.
"I could see [online voting] as a choice, but not 100 percent" for elections, said Clackamas County Clerk Sherry Hall, noting that she thinks "security is what everyone would question."
DeGregorio smiled at that. He noted that Estonia is one country that has completely adopted online voting. They provide computers in public locations for people who don't have them. Switzerland, he added, is also moving in that direction.
Of course, one thing that we learned from this online election is that it didn't magically get Independent Party voters to participate. Turnout was about 4 percent, which is certainly a much higher number than would have attended a party convention (which is the usual method of nominating minor-party candidates).
My sense is that it isn't a bad turnout given that there are questions about how many Independent Party registrants even know that they are in a party instead of being a true independent. And except for the postcard they received from the party with their passcode, a few mailings from the candidates and a couple of modest news stories, they didn't hear much about the election.
I was struck a couple months ago when I called several independent voters and found that they generally weren't that interested in politics. So it's no surprise that many would skip this newfangled kind of primary.