A Contemporary Solution to Help Expand Voting Access in Illinois

By: Quinn Newman

Topic: Online Voting 
Issue: Expanding Voting Access During COVID-19

Problem:

The spread of COVID-19 in Illinois has many concerned about the structure and process of the November election. Considering the dangers of in-person voting for a majority of the population, alternative measures need to be pursued. Voting by mail could be a potential alternative, but considering the faults in the American postal system and the unlikelihood of younger voters wanting to vote this way, there could potentially be an issue in turnout. In effect, there has been much deliberation on an alternative system that is accurate, secure, and allows greater access for Americans to vote.

History:

The spread of the coronavirus has compromised the health and safety of all citizens especially those with pre-existing conditions and poor health. While social distancing in Illinois has so far limited the spread, there is concern on how the November will play out due to a continuous effort to limit public gatherings. Moreover, there is also the possibility that many may choose not to vote as a tradeoff to precautionary measures. In effect, the state has made it an obligation to enhance voting access by encouraging some to vote by mail.

Many people, however, may not be aware, unwilling, or unable to take advantage of this method. Moverocer, mail-in ballots are not something that every state offers and there is the possibility that even if mail in-ballots are available here, they will not be elsewhere thus possibly increasing spreading COVID-19.

Previous and Contemporary solutions

I-Referenda is a contemporary solution that could hold much potential for Illinois policy makers in the future to expand voting access. Mandate Democracy, a non-for-profit headquartered in Virginia, argues that this new method of voting has great potential to be a supplement for the mail-in ballots that is accurate, more democratic, and connects people to their representatives in a unique way. 

Secured by blockchain technology and developed by IBM, I-Referenda allows individual counties, cities, and other municipalities to hold online votes in regard to specific topics and issues and feed that information directly to elected officials. 

With this information, elected officials can take into account the opinions and wishes of their constituents to make informed decisions. Moreover, I-Referenda can also give users the ability to submit votes of no confidence to their elected officials. In effect, technology enhances the democratic process.

I-Referenda could be especially effective to enhance voting confidence and provide voters with a new viable alternative in Illinois. It will also provide a safe way for people to voice their opinion at the polls which does not put the general population and those most vulnerable to the disease at risk in the state. It could also be beneficial for Illinois races in particular considering that nearly half of the Illinois house of representatives ran unopposed in 2018. It should be the goal of our political system to educate and empower the electorate so that they can make informed and rational decisions based on more than simple partisan rhetoric.

Despite the opportunities, some issues exist. Given the current public health situation, there have been delays in the rollout for this upcoming election and focuses on other efforts at the moment, but the movement is energized and the technology is solid with the collaboration with IBM. The organization has just gotten started but it has already received feedback and support from thousands of people across the country who are looking for a new political paradigm. 

Conclusion:

Voting by mail is a contentious issue during an especially partisan political cycle. With not all states expanding voting access or offering safe, alternative ways to vote, enhancing political participation is needed if this public health crisis is not soon abated.  Mandate Democracy is offering a new path towards political participation and direct democracy that, if implemented, could have vast consequences for the future of the nation. 

For more information on I-Referenda, please visit https://mandatedemocracy.org

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