Social Media, E-Voting and the Presidential Election

In America, everything has gone mobile. Over 160 million Americans are on Facebook and 53% of mobile phone owners have smartphones. The trend of a mobile and social media savvy populace has led to a presidential election climate unlike any previously experienced. The internet and social media continue to play a crucial role in spreading information during the presidential campaigns and some say it massively affected the outcome. This article will take a look at how social media was utilized in the campaigns, as well as the controversy surrounding e-voting. It will then look at the future of using mobile devices in a campaign season, perhaps even as a portable personal ballot.

Election Apps

Mobile phone and tablet computer apps played a large role in the lead up to the 2012 presidential election. The Obama and Romney campaigns have each focused on developing mobile phone apps in order to spread their message and get out the vote.

The Obama for America app allows you to get area-specific information regarding President Obama’s impact in your state, helps you to sign up to a canvass group, and find events and share news.  The app utilizes Google maps to mark locations where volunteers are working and indicates doors to be knocked on and places to meet.

Mitt Romney’s app was a little bit different, as users who download it were promised to be first to know who Romney picked as his running mate.  While the media may have beaten them to it, the Romney campaign utilizes the information of participants for future campaigning. Other Mitt Romney apps have included With Mitt, which let users chose between different Mitt For President templates, and a Mitt Events app which keeps users informed on upcoming rallies and events. Other apps have included quick donate options on mobile devices, where contributors can donate via a text message.

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Depending on the region, other information is also available on mobile devices. For instance, in Cabarrus County, North Carolina, voters have access to a free mapping app which directs them to polling places using a geographic information system (GIS). 

Electronic voting

E-voting is a type of voting which employs electronic means of casting or counting votes. There are two types of e-voting. The first is voting which takes place with electoral authorities present, and the second is remote e-voting which uses mobile devices, the internet or other means. While the first type of e-voting is currently in effect in certain districts, the second may not be that far off.  Views remain mixed as some view e-voting as progressive and evolutionary, and others see it as highly susceptible to fraud and misuse.

The controversy of e-voting is nothing new, but it has peaked after the hanging chad controversy surrounding the 2000 presidential election.  Since then certain counties have implemented all-electronic paperless voting. Officials in many areas are in the center of a debate regarding these paperless direct-record electronic ballots (DRE). The debate centers on whether there should be paper backups of electronic votes in case of technical glitches and malfunctioning equipment. An additional fear is that e-voting limits transparency and can be more easily manipulated to skew votes.

Voting on your smartphone?

While voting on your smartphone may seem a long way off, many people surveyed seem to think it is a good idea. The smartphone app Stitcher surveyed over 2,000 Americans, about half of whom were smartphone owners, and found that 60% of smartphone owners think that they should be able to cast their vote for president on a mobile app. Democrats were more willing to vote on their phones than Republicans, with 54% and 47% respectively, and younger people more eager than older voters. The study also found that 41% of mobile gadget users are getting more news and updates about the 2012 election on mobile apps and web browsing than they did in the 2008 election, a statistic supported by the numerous apps released by the presidential campaign.

In addition to the practicalities of making remote e-voting work, there are several concerns that remain with the process of allowing mobile users to vote through their gadgets. These include ensuring the security of votes and verifying where the votes came from. Interestingly, there are many gadgets on the market today which may already be able to alleviate these concerns. For instance, perhaps voting on a mobile device will be limited to those brands which can prove a base level of security features, such as Lenovo Ultrabooks which have USB blockers and fingerprint scanners to ensure identity. In the near future many smart phones will have similar features (some already do, as Blackberry is known for its security) which could ensure fair voting procedure.

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