By Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt
Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics, American Military University
Start a Homeland Security degree at American Military University.
Voting. According to civil rights icon and recently deceased Congressman John Lewis, it’s the most powerful tool a citizen can use to ensure a democratic society.
“My dear friends,” Lewis said during a 2012 speech in Charlotte, North Carolina, “your vote is precious, almost sacred. It is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have to create a more perfect union.”
While there are over 200 governmental systems around the globe, only about 20, including the United States, are fully democratic.
And while it is proven that a democratic society is indeed possible, in the United States democracy comes at a cost, and our 232-year-old presidential election process needs modernizing.
Up to 37% of Registered Voters Do Not Cast Ballots
Election Day is the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. The roots of a designated day for voting are over 150 years old, when Congress declared a national election day. However, it’s important to highlight that up to 37% of registered voters do not vote, The Hill reports.
“Since the presidential election of 1932, the highest proportion of the voting age population that cast a vote in the presidential election was nearly 63 percent (in 1960), while the lowest proportion was 49 percent (in 1996,” The Hill said. “This means that between one-half and five-eighths of eligible voters determine who wins the most important and powerful office in the world.”
As the population grows and technology becomes ever more ubiquitous, the voting process has been revised to include many more polling sites, early voting and absentee voting, for citizens who cannot cast their ballots in person for health or other reasons.
Russia Used AI to Shape Public Opinion in the 2016 Election
In 2016, the Office of Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) warned that Russia was using artificial intelligence and other tactics to shape public opinions via social media prior to the presidential elections. These allegations were echoed in the Mueller Report released in 2019.
In January of this year, Shelby Pierson, the intelligence community’s election threats executive, told NPR that additional countries may attempt to interfere in U.S. politics given the success of Russian efforts during the 2016 presidential election.
“This isn’t a Russia-only problem,” Pierson said. “We’re still also concerned about China, Iran, non-state actors, ‘hacktivists.’ And frankly … even Americans might be looking to undermine confidence in the elections.”
Because the majority of social media did not fact-check posts, many inaccurate statements flooded timelines and clouded the judgment of citizens.
Many pieces of evidence point to the influx of AI-powered technologies that have systematically been misused to manipulate citizens in recent elections. Facebook has generally refused to fact-check political ads, for instance. Also, a two-year audit of its civil rights practices faulted Facebook for leaving U.S. elections “…exposed to interference by the President and others…” according to KGW8 TV in the Portland-Vancouver area.
Monitoring the Election Process
The United States is less than 62 days away from the 2020 presidential election, and there are growing concerns about equitable voting in the face of a global pandemic. While medical experts have cautioned against large gatherings, in-person voting also poses several challenges to maintain social distancing standards.
In addition, fears and concerns of mail fraud have risen. The Postmaster General has since recanted and reversed course on several questionable tactics imposed by the Post Service, such as removing mailboxes, reducing overtime delivery, and sorting machines to lower overhead costs. That, coupled with a recent decision from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to cancel all further briefings on foreign election interference makes one question if the 2020 elections are doomed to be compromised in some way.
Can artificial intelligence tactics be used for good in the upcoming election? AI algorithms can analyze the voting infrastructure and identify gaps as well as hot spots in voting activity. Autobots have aided poll workers to check IDs and organize lines of voters. It’s questionable whether robots could be used for proxy voting, but the idea is gaining some support. At the least, robots could easily stand in voting lines for hours, holding spots for voters who are unable to wait in long lines.
Five states — Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and Utah — currently conduct elections almost entirely by mail, and AI is prevalent in tracking and documenting votes. Another idea that is gaining support is to use video technology to vote. In the midst of the pandemic, this procedure would adhere to social distancing guidelines, and the physical presence of a voter could be combined with a written signature to ensure accurate voting and decrease concerns about mail fraud.
In many cases, signatures could be replaced with a fingerprint or eye scan identification, either of which AI technology could manage. In addition, declaring election day a national holiday, which has been proposed, would give more Americans more time to vote in person.
A democratic society depends on its citizens to vote. However, the process of casting a ballot can be updated to include the latest technological advancements for the betterment of society.
About the Author
Dr. Kandis Y. Boyd Wyatt, PMP, is a professor at American Military University and has over 25 years of experience managing projects that specialize in supply chain management. She holds a B.S. in meteorology and an M.S. in meteorology and water resources from Iowa State University, as well as a D.P.A. in public administration from Nova Southeastern University.
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