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The High-Tech Tide is Turning Towards Voter Empowerment

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If someone asks you how high technology permeates our elections, what comes to mind? Probably, voting machines. And if you've been following the news, you'll also think of voter-registration databases.

All these are employed by the government.

How else does high-tech touch our elections? Well, there's the newsmedia that publish election-related news. At a minimum, they employ broadcasting equipment, word processors, high speed telecommunications, and, of course, audio and video recording devices.

Now let's ask about the individual voter.

All the above devices for controlling and publicizing elections have up until recently been very expensive.

Though they were all used by the voter as well, the voter was little more than a consumer of what the others produced. About the only devices the voter had was pen and paper, useful for writing a letter to the editor.

But that's changing.

Thirty years ago, microcomputers came on the scene and made computerized devices affordable to the average citizen. Their grandest realization so far has been the Internet, which has placed into the hands of the average citizen the ability to independently create and distribute information worldwide. This has created an independent source of checks and balances on both the government and the mainstream media, just in time to counterbalance their current drift away from concern for the welfare of all citizens.

So, given the de facto power of big government and large corporations to dominate our elections, rather than to be subservient to them, what can the average citizen do?

Much more now than just a few years ago, thanks to inexpensive high technology. Let's call this "citizen technology."

A main problem with our elections is that they have, in many jurisdictions, become insecure, inaccurate, and opaque to citizen oversight. And we know that what operates in secret is in danger of becoming corrupt.

Citizen technology can help combat these deficiencies. Here are just a few ways:

1. Cell phones in the polling place. If suspicious activity is taking place, a citizen can phone a timely report to appropriate authorities and organizations, or even to local news outlets.

2. Videocameras in the polling place. These can create an accurate and trustworthy record of events in the polling place, for later review and for documentation of possible wrong-doing. (Soon, cell-phones will be able to fill this role, with the added benefit that they can transmit their video offsite instantly.)

3. Unofficial blogs. Sponsored by non-governmental agencies and by private citizens, blogs can allow the average citizen to publish worldwide their own first-hand, complete, and unedited report of problems at the polls. This is an important alternative to the culling and editing performed by the government and the mainstream newsmedia. (You can visit one such blog at .)

A final word, about videocameras:

Security, accuracy, and transparency are essential to elections. But these qualities are being eroded by government and private companies as they make the handling of our ballots more and more secretive. We are expected more and more to trust--rather than see and know--that the processing of the ballots is not flawed.

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Roy Lipscomb, Emeritus Director for Technology, Illinois Ballot Integrity Project

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