I recently asked my students to provide their thoughts about technology and voting in national elections. Because they are all roughly between the ages of 18 and 21 and are constantly on their smartphones before class, I thought their answers would be pretty straightforward (and similar). However, they provided a myriad of answers to my query, ranging from increased technology through apps for smartphones, more high-tech electronic voting machines, voting on the Internet and even requiring fingerprint identification. There were a few students who feared increased technology would increase voter fraud and make the American electoral system even more susceptible to hacking from domestic and foreign terrorists. Their thoughtful responses made me think about 2016 and why we must remain vigilant when holding our elected officials accountable for providing the most equitable voting experience for all citizens.
Many of you have heard about Alabama’s efforts to decrease African-American voting by, one, mandating voter identification at the polls and, two, closing 31 DMV offices in eight out of 10 predominately Black counties. These blatant attempts at disenfranchising voters in the 21st century are clear, which left me thinking about the ways in which technology could help prevent some of these gross infractions. Without convenient DMVs and locales in which to receive an identification card, many people will abstain from the arduous task of voting. There are costs to voting, both literal (gas, babysitters, time off from work) and figurative (obtaining information about candidates and issues). What if people could easy vote on their smartphones through a secure app, similar to the ways in which people pay bills? What if while watching Netflix, people could log in to a site and vote for their desired candidates from the comfort of their living rooms? This idea may seem far-fetched, but if we can plant an American flag on the moon, I think we can make voting slightly easier for the American public.
In recent presidential election years, participation among the voting aged population (those over 18) has hovered around 60 percent, well below the average of other democratic nations that have made Election Day a national holiday and/or spent more time and resources educating their populous about the issues and candidates in each race. With the influx of money into national elections, compliments of the Supreme Court’s favorable ruling in Citizens United, elections are becoming arduous 18-month-long fundraising endeavors with issues being pushed to the background until Election Day approaches. The Internet has certainly assisted candidates in their efforts to raise money, now if we could just use technology to further assist voters in their registration efforts and increase voter turnout.
I implore you to ask your elected representatives where they stand on the issues of increased technological access for members of their district. The technology young people could easily use could be the key to a more informed and participatory electorate. Remember the words of the 19th century Austrian novelist Marie Von Ebner-Eschenbach, “In youth we learn; in age we understand.”
Christina Greer, Ph.D., is a tenured professor at Fordham University and the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream.” You can find her on Twitter @Dr_CMGreer.