Three ways to fix the Utah GOP’s online voting experiment

There are always some flaws to be found and lessons to be learned with any new experiment, and unfortunately there are times when you can’t fully test a system. Yesterday’s digital caucus was one of those times. While some voters had a good experience, others didn’t get a PIN or weren’t able to log in due to loads on the system. This was essentially a live beta, and it has shown some benefits. Unfortunately the processes and realities of voting left it showing some large and concerning issues as well.

Three ways to fix the Utah GOP's online voting experiment
by Beau Sorensen

If the Utah State Republican Party decides to run with this system again in four years, there are some lessons to be learned:

One person, one vote.

This is a bedrock feature of democracy and was the single largest problem yesterday. There wasn’t any cross-talk between online voting and those who went to their precincts. The only way my precinct chair knew whether someone had voted online was if they specifically stated that they had done so. Whether this was a lack of training or access for them to pull voter rolls at 6 pm MDT just before caucus, there needs to be a good system to update this beforehand.

Additionally, digital polls should have closed completely at 6 pm MDT. By keeping them open until 11 pm, it left them open for people to still vote. Because caucuses didn’t end until sometime between 9-10 pm, there is no possible way that the precinct officers could have input caucus attendance and locked out voters from making an additional vote online.

While much has been made of the vulnerabilities of the system in the run up to caucuses, just like in the real world, social engineering is the bigger issue that the system has. In order for it to be a truly viable option, those security holes have to be closed.

The systems don’t talk to each other.

The state party uses a back-end called Voterclick that was developed in-state. It was originally created for the Utah County Republican Party, but it was quickly found to be superior to their existing option from an operational standpoint. While this was a good back-end, it wasn’t able to scale up to become the full system they needed. As a result, voters had to pre-register for caucus with Eventbrite, register to run for a position in Voterclick, and vote online in Smartmatic. These systems did not communicate together at all, leading to a lot of pre-work from voters with no real payoff as you go to caucus and find you have to do it all over again anyway.

There was a lack of support.

Finally, if you’re moving online and have support options available, those options need to actually be available. I tried to get support online yesterday to test the system and it took 15 minutes to get a live rep to use the online chat feature. Most people wouldn’t wait around for that. When they do finally get online, they also need to have the correct information – I asked if I had to pre-register online for a position and they said that I did, even though caucuses can and always do have nominations from the floor. Those who called the support phone number often got disconnected and had long hold times.

If the state party can resolve these issues, they can push more fully into the brave new world of online voting and perhaps end up with better results in four years.

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