Home On Watch Technology and Elections: Blessing or Curse?

Technology and Elections: Blessing or Curse?

by Peter Schrappen

OnWatch_VotingIf you are like me, then next to On Watch, my second favorite part of Northwest Yachting is the reviews of new boating gadgets and technology (Goods and Gear and Hotwire). As Thanksgiving approaches, it is worth stepping back and thinking about all the abundance. Walking down the cereal aisle recently and reading about the latest pizza oven in the July 2019 issue of Northwest Yachting demonstrates how we truly live in the land of plenty.

This cornucopia did not happen overnight. Technology in boating is nothing new. Did you know that the GPS system we take for granted started with boats? While boating may seem like a revolving door of the latest and greatest, have you wondered why our election system is so outdated?

If you live in Washington, you get a ballot about two weeks before the election. You fill it out and return it (no stamp required). It gets counted and that’s about the end of it. Or is it?

The recent Reuters article, How Amazon.com moved into the business of U.S. elections caught me off guard. Naively, I thought that there was a room full of computers that kept track of addresses and vote histories with the bold “Confidential” sticker emblazoned over the hard drives. Upon further review, there’s much more to it. Did you know that more than 40 states now use one or more of Amazon’s election products?

From this same article, I will admit that it is reassuring that “Amazon does not handle voting on election day, AWS (Amazon Web Services) — along with a broad network of partners — now runs state and county election websites, stores voter registration rolls and ballot data, facilitates overseas voting by military personnel and helps provide live election night results, according to company documents and interviews.”

Again, I suppose none of this should surprise us. For the last seven months in my free time, I have doorbelled about 2,000 doors and phoned about 3,500 voters in support of a city council candidate. It was back to the future for me as this was my world from 2000 to 2008. Like moving from paper charts to computers on your boat, campaigning has drastically changed, too.

For one, I’m glad that I’m not in clipboard sales. Like fax paper, clipboards are no longer essential for canvassing neighborhoods. An app provides the addresses and after each house, the volunteer inputs data, and then synchs the data to rest of the campaign. It’s precise, targeted, and the most effective way to meet with swing voters on their terms. No time is wasted talking to non-registered voters. Each interaction gets a grade and each grade means more tailored follow-up.

It does not stop there. If people are not accustomed to voting, then they are skipped over. Women voters over 60 were targeted with a mailer from the candidate’s mom. Does that fact about campaigns make you squeamish? I could see where it might, but did you know how much of your voting history is public?

For example, while it is not possible to know how one votes on a specific candidate or measure, it is pubic info to know if voter X voted or not. Also, aggregate vote totals are extrapolated by neighborhoods (aka precincts). It is relatively easy to know which candidate won a neighborhood and by how many votes. This info is important for future elections because it impacts targeting down the road.

Like with all of this, there is no going back. I am reminded of the St. Thomas Aquinas quote that “Nothing is intrinsically good or evil but it’s manner of usage may make it so.” Technology falls into that camp, too. Whether a boat sinks because of a faulty computer system as it did outside of Port Angeles or makes your life easier by crisping up a pizza, it’s up to us and elected officials to mind the technology store.

I want to leave on a positive note so I will share a recent interview with Senator Joe Nguyen, who is in his first term and represents West Seattle. He credits technology with giving him “four more hours in the day compared to other folks because of our use of technology.” I remember that promise from futurists that tech was supposed to open up more leisure time (aka boating time). Now that’s a future I can get used to.

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