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Oregon governor doubts you'll be voting by phone anytime soon

Jen Rogers
·3-min read

I started the week thinking I’d one day vote on my phone. I’ve ended the week convinced it’s paper ballots for the foreseeable future.

I interviewed Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen for Yahoo Finance’s All Market Summit, who really had me thinking about authentication and moving to a largely electronic framework. In fact, he noted we’ve already made incremental digital steps forward when it comes to the voting system. “The voting process itself, and when you go into a voting booth, has become electronic,” Narayen said. “If you remember, we used to have to write that out. And now, increasingly, a lot of that is electronic.”

But practically speaking, even those in office right now who would like to see advancements, instead see huge challenges. In an interview with Yahoo Finance, Oregon’s Gov. Kate Brown said, “I think we're going to stay paper.”

‘A paper ballot is verifiable’

Oregon became the first state in the U.S. to pass vote-by-mail back in 1998. It’s already worked through many of the challenges other states are facing as they stand up robust mail-in programs during a pandemic.

As a leader in modernizing voting, many look to Oregon for the next step forward in so-called at-home voting, but Brown, a Democrat, doesn’t think we’re getting rid of paper ballots anytime soon. “A paper ballot is verifiable, you can recount the ballot, and you can get a very secure result,” said Brown, who won her first election in the state house by seven votes.

The ability to recount is key: “It's a paper ballot. That's really important with what happened during the 2016 election where we had concerns of foreign interference in terms of the outcome of the election,” she said.

For Brown it’s actually an evolution of her thinking around moving to a more digital vote. “If you'd asked me in my first term as secretary of state, I would have said, yes, we're likely to go to electronic voting. And there are still ways to make that happen... But I think for right now, a paper ballot is tested and true. As I said, you can replicate and verify the results.”

CHARLESTON, SC - OCTOBER 30: Robert Clair casts his in-person absentee ballot at the Charleston County Public Library on October 30, 2020 in Charleston, South Carolina. More than 1500 residents voted early at the library yesterday and the location hopes to serve more people today. (Photo by Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)
CHARLESTON, SC - OCTOBER 30: More than 1500 residents voted early at the library yesterday and the location hopes to serve more people today. (Photo by Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)

Is voting by phone the next step?

Many voters are starting to warm to online voting, as they use technologies like DocuSign or PayPal to perform important work in their own lives. Voting by phone seems like a possible next step. A nationwide study of registered voters in the United States this spring by TargetSmart, a Democratic data firm, to gauge people’s views about this year’s elections amid the coronavirus outbreak, found 49% would support voting over the internet.

Concerns about comprehensive electronic voting remain high, but some like Narayen think technology will actually bring more security to casting a ballot.

“You're going to be able to authenticate who you are and validate it and then just submit it,” Narayen said. “And I think that will make it fraud-proof. That'll make it faster.”

While some states are testing programs to allow people with disabilities or those living overseas to send in their paper ballots electronically, Gov. Brown is sticking with paper and says more states will move toward Oregon’s model because voters have consistently enjoyed the ease and efficiency.

“I think we're going to stay paper. It's safe, it's secure, it's really cost-effective and frankly, it's very efficient,” she said. “So I'm hoping other governors in other states will enjoy the experience this time around and look forward to voting by mail in the future.”

Yahoo Finance All Markets Summit
Yahoo Finance All Markets Summit

Jen Rogers is an anchor for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @JenSaidIt.

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