By Tcherika Petit-Frere
Howard University News Service
A proposed bill, The Mobile Vote Act, if passed, would allow eligible D.C. voters to cast a ballot from their smartphone, tablet, or computer.
The bill is aimed at combating the low voter turnout in previous elections by making it easier for people who may have restrictions or complications that prevent them from voting on Election Day, such as transportation issues, medical emergencies, and visual or physical disabilities.
The Rev. George C. Cilbert Jr., Executive Director of the Center for Racial Equity and Justice, is seeking support for the Mobile Vote Act.
“This is a game changer for voter suppression, Cilbert said. “This is a game changer for the folks who are not able to get off work or have to pick up their children by a certain deadline and can’t make it to the polls.”
He also noted that online voting would helpful for potential voters who are still concerned about being in public places. If the bill passes D.C. could be a role model for other parts of the country concerned about voter suppression, Cilbert said.
“What happens here in D.C., it has an impact on the rest of the country. So when you look at if D.C. moves this bill, possibly places like Georgia and places like Florida, who are known for voter suppression, it could change the trajectory.”
The Judiciary and Public Safety committee is currently reviewing the proposed bill.
The bill was introduced in February by D.C. Council member Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2). As the bill moves through the legislative process, Cilbert said his group is looking to build community support.
“We are in the process now of building community support [among] the residents of D.C. And what we are hearing is that the residents are looking forward to being able to vote easier from their phones and from their computers,” said Cilbert.
According to a letter council members sent to the Secretary of the Council in February, “less than 19% of registered voters cast ballots in the 2018 primary election and only 46% voted in the general election.” While the counselors noted that turnout was higher in 2020, it was still seen as “remarkably low” because 28% voted in the primary and 67% in the general election.
Voting online in US elections has been extremely limited. Military personnel and other workers based overseas have been allowed to receive a ballot electronically. In some cases, they have to print out the ballot and return it. In other cases, the entire process takes place online. They can vote and submit the ballot via an online portal. No state has made online voting available, according to the National Conference of State Legislators.
In 2018, West Virginia launched a pilot program led by its secretary of state, Mac Warner. Warner partnered with Voatz, a company that developed a platform that allows citizens to vote without visiting their polling place. The pilot was aimed to help military personell and other workers overseas vote more easily. =
“Of the 147 that completed the one-time authentication process, 98% submitted their ballot; every submitted ballot was counted,” according to a report on the pilot titled Under the Hood: The West Virginia Mobile Voting Pilot on Jan 20, 2019.
Critics of voting by app cite security issues, arguing that systems could be hacked.
The proposed bill lists some security measures that will be taken to prevent fraud and uphold the integrity of the election. A digital voting system has yet to be identified by the District of Columbia’s Board of Elections (BOE). The system would need to verify a voter’s identity, eligibility, and registration.
The bill also requires that identification data be kept confidential, and after a voter’s ballot is cast, the voting system would destroy any information about the voter’s choices.
“The bill would establish an auditing system to report any security issues and threats actively. The bill would also authorize the BOE to promulgate rules to implement the act. Including security protocols and processes for soliciting software development for the mobile voting system,” according to the letter to the secretary council of D.C. on Feb. 18.
If the Mobile Voting Options for Turnout Equity Amendment Act of 2022 is approved, D.C. voters could vote online as soon as 2024.
Tcherika Petit-Frere is a reporter for HUNewsService.com.