For decades, political scientists have been talking about the impacts of technological advancements on voter turnout. When electronic voting machines were deployed at scale in the early 2000s, many believed that this change would have a significant impact on voter participation levels by making the process of casting a ballot more accessible.
However, voter participation levels have ebbed and flowed over the last 20 years, much like they always had prior to the implementation of electronic ballots.
Recently, discussions about the potential impacts of technology on voter turnout rates have reemerged. This time, the technology in question is not electronic voting machines but mobile voting software that allows constituents to cast a ballot using their mobile device.
In this post, we will review recent voter participation trends, discuss whether e-voting really increases turnout, and examine the various ways in which voting technologies have the potential to mobilize constituents during election cycles.
Recent Voter Participation Trends
Between 2014 and 2022, voter participation levels have run the gamut of potential outcomes. During the 2014 midterms, the turnout rate for House elections was an abysmal 34.4%. In 2018, voter turnout soared to 48.1%, which represented the highest level in over 100 years. By 2022, turnout had dropped back down to around 45%.
Based on 2022 figures, well over 110 million eligible voters neglected to cast a ballot. This is not a new problem. For decades, political strategists and candidates running for office have been exploring ways to get more Americans involved in the democratic process.
While there have been many temporary upticks in voter participation throughout the years, turnout always seems to fall back down in one to two cycles following the spike. However, e-voting technology has sparked the optimism of political strategists and has many clamoring to implement this software on a national scale.
The question is, does e-voting actually improve voter turnout? More importantly, is it secure?
Does E-Voting Increase Voter Turnout?
During the 2018 federal election cycle, West Virginia offered a mobile voting option to registered voters who were living overseas. Researchers at the University of Chicago examined this trial program and discovered that offering mobile ballots increased voter participation by three to five percentage points.
Based on this research, allowing voters to cast their ballots remotely could significantly increase turnout while simultaneously reducing the cost of managing polls.
With that being said, many Americans are wary of online voting. Concerns about the security of the process and the legitimacy of elections that include mobile ballots represent a major barrier to the action of e-voting technologies.
How Technology Can Increase Participation in State and Federal Elections
Despite the concerns surrounding e-voting, this technology has the potential to significantly increase participation rates.
In the aforementioned study, overseas voters had to submit a Federal Post Card Application to request mobile voting. If e-voting is implemented domestically, the process could be offered in a more convenient way. This means an e-voting program could potentially have an even greater impact on voter participation.
While it is unclear precisely why over half of eligible voters neglect to cast a ballot, e-voting has the potential to eliminate several barriers to voting, including:
A Lack of Transportation
Voters with limited access to transportation may decline to cast a ballot if traveling to a polling station is tedious or difficult. With e-voting, constituents can conveniently access ballots from the comfort of their home without having to contend with transportation concerns.
An Inability to Get off Work
Most polling stations are open for extended hours. However, individuals working long hours may find it difficult to reach their polling station, especially if they already lack access to reliable transportation.
E-voting technologies give voters the freedom to cast their ballot during their commute, while on the go, or during their lunch break. They will not have to wait in long lines, travel to a polling station, or contend with crowds to exercise their right to vote.
A Lack of Convenience
Even if they have the ability to do so, some Americans simply don’t want to go to a polling station. E-voting taps into U.S. voters’ desire for convenient, efficient, and simple voting opportunities.
While any e-voting mechanism will involve a verification process, casting a digital ballot will still be far more efficient than responding to a polling station and submitting a ballot in person.
Indirect Impacts of Technology on Voter Turnout
Technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) platforms can have indirect impacts on voter turnout. When used strategically, these technologies can help campaigns identify and target undecided voters with curated content.
By presenting middle-of-the-road constituents with timely and relevant information about topics that are important to them, candidates can improve voter turnout and gain much-needed support in the days leading up to election day.
Moving forward, maximizing voter turnout will require a multifaceted strategy that involves removing voting barriers and more effectively sharing information about important issues. Informed, educated constituents are more likely to fulfill their civic duty and cast a ballot come election time.
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