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What’s needed to bring the US voting system into the 21st century | Tiana Epps-Johnson

OK, I want to take a moment
to let each of you think to yourselves about the last time
you sent or received a fax. (Laughter) Well, for me, it was this morning, because one piece of my work is making sure that everyone in the US
has the information that they need to make decisions
about the candidates on their ballot. And collecting that information from the local government offices
responsible for maintaining it means sending and receiving
a lot of faxes. Voting is one of our most
fundamental rights. It’s one of the most tangible ways that each and every one of us
can shape our communities. And as we enter this fourth
industrial revolution, where technology is changing
everything around us, you would think, with something
as important as the right to vote, that we would have
the most modern, secure, inclusive system that could exist … But we don’t. When we look at comparable democracies, the US has one of the lowest
voter turnout rates in the world. We have a system where even
the most persistent voters come up against exhausting barriers. A system where 20th-century technology — like fax machines — and outdated practices stand in the way
of full, vibrant participation. In US presidential elections,
turnout hovers around 60 percent. The numbers are even lower
for local elections. That means that nearly 40 percent
of Americans aren’t voters. That’s nearly 100 million people. I believe in something
very straightforward: that everyone should have the information
that they need to become a voter, that the voting process
should be seamless and secure and that every voter
should have information they trust to make decisions
about the candidates on their ballot. Because when more people vote, together, we make better decisions
for our communities. So I’ve spent the last
eight years on a mission to push our democracy
into the 21st century. Now, one of the most common approaches
to election modernization is advocating for policy change, and that’s an incredibly important
piece of the strategy for building a system where millions
of more people become voters. But I’ve taken a different approach. I focused on a critical
yet largely untapped resource for election modernization: local election officials. I work with thousands of local
election officials across the country to build tools and skills
that they can use immediately to transform the way
that they’re engaging today’s voters. Folks like Kat and Marie. Kat and Marie have worked together
for years in a windowless office in the basement of the Mercer County
Courthouse in West Virginia. Together, they have
a tremendous responsibility. They’re local election officials serving
Mercer County’s 40,000 registered voters. Local election officials
are the public servants that do the day-to-day work
that makes our election system function. When you fill out
a voter-registration form, they’re the folks that process them
and add you to the rolls. They’re the folks who buy the technology
that we use to cast and count ballots. They recruit and train the volunteers
at your local polling place. And they’re the official
nonpartisan source for informing people
in their communities about how to vote. And unlike other countries where there’s some form
of centralized election authority, in the US, there are 7,897 different county
and municipal offices, like Kat and Marie’s, that each have an independent role
in administering elections. Yes, that’s nearly 8,000
slightly different ways that you might experience voting
based on where you happen to live. When I was talking with Kat and Marie, like so many election officials
that I talk with in rural towns and in major cities alike, they were deeply proud of getting
to help people in their communities, but they were also worried. All of the new tools that people
were using to get information — the internet, social media — they were difficult to figure out
how to use effectively. And they felt like they weren’t fully
meeting the needs of Mercer County voters. One thing that they really wished
that they had was a website so they could create a hub with information about
how to register in upcoming elections, and a place to put election results. See, at the time,
when voters had questions, they had to either call
or visit their office, which meant that Kat and Marie
were inevitably answering the same questions over and over again, which is both a superinefficient
use of their time, but also created totally unnecessary
barriers for voters when that information
could just live online. And Mercer County wasn’t alone. At the time, they were one
of 966 counties in the US that had no voting information online. I’ll let that sink in. They were one of the nearly one-third
of counties in the US that had no place online to find official information
about how to vote. To Kat and Marie, not having
and election website was unacceptable, but they didn’t have very many options. They didn’t have the budget
to hire a web developer, they didn’t have the expertise
to build a site themselves, so they went without. And 40,000 voters
in Mercer County went without. We’re in a moment where we have
an unprecedented opportunity to transform civic engagement. Technology is revolutionizing
science and industry. It’s already transformed
how we connect with one another and understand the world around us, but our democratic institutions — they’re being left behind. The US is one of the few
major democracies in the world that puts the onus of voter registration
on the individual voter, rather than the government. The rules that govern how to vote
vary from state to state, and sometimes even county to county. And we have ballots
that are pages and pages long. This November, on my ballot, there are literally over
100 different people and referenda for me to make decisions about. We have to be using
the best tools we can bring to bear to help voters navigate this complexity, and right now, we’re not. One of the most common narratives
I hear in my work is that people aren’t civically engaged
because they’re apathetic — because they don’t care. But as my brilliant friends
at the Center for Civic Design say, if there is apathy, it comes from the system, not the voter. We can change the system right now by connecting local election officials
like Kat and Marie with 21st-century tools and the training that they need
to use them to better serve voters. Tools and training to do things like
use social media for voter engagement, or use data to staff
and equip polling places so that we don’t see
hours-long lines at the polls, or training on cybersecurity
best practices so that we can ensure
that our voting systems are secure. When we invest in this approach, we see meaningful, lasting results. Kat and Marie are online now. Inspired by their experience,
we built a website template using research-based
best practices in civic design, and developed the training so that Kat and Marie are able
to maintain their site themselves. In less than a week, they went from having never seen
the back end of a website to building a resource
for Mercer County voters that they have been independently
keeping up to date since 2014. Today, the 40,000 voters in Mercer County and over 100,000 voters
in counties across the country have everything that they need
to become a voter directly from their local
election official, on a mobile-friendly,
easy-to-use, accessible website. And we can even further scale the impact when local election officials
are not only reaching out through their own channels, but they’re extending their reach
by working in partnership with others. Efforts like the Ballot
Information Project and the Voting Information Project
work with election officials nationwide to create a centralized, standard database
of key voting information, like what’s on your ballot
and where to vote. That information powers tools built
by companies like Google and Facebook to get information in the places
where people already are, like their newsfeed and search. In 2016, the Ballot Information Project connected the public with information
about candidates and referenda over 200 millions times, helping between a third and a half
of every single person who cast a ballot. And that model has been replicated
for elections around the world. When we look at efforts
in other areas of government, we can see the opportunity
when we listen to the public’s needs and we meet them with modern tools. I think about my friends at mRelief, who have helped 260,000 families unlock 42 million dollars in food benefits by helping government agencies
transition away from a 20-page, paper-based
application for food stamps to a process that can happen
in 10 questions over text message in fewer than three minutes. That kind of transformation
is possible in voting. It’s happening right now, but there’s still so much work to do. Now, if you have any technical
bone in your body, I know what you’re thinking. This is all solvable. The technology that we need exists. We collectively have the expertise. You might even be thinking
about volunteering at your local election office. I love how solutions-oriented you are, but to be clear, the work that is needed
to modernize our election system isn’t something that’s going to happen
using 20 percent time, or through a hackathon, or by doing a one-off technology project. What we need is significant,
sustained, long-term investment. Investment in technology and investment in the skills
of local election officials to run 21st-century elections, because if we don’t
invest in the long game, we risk finding ourselves
perpetually behind. So if you’re ready to help millions, if you’re ready to close the gap
between the system that we have and the system that we deserve, we need you. Organizations that are doing
this work year-round need you. Local election offices need you. Come join us. Thank you. (Applause)

Author Since: Mar 11, 2019

  1. Not a citizen, no vote. Voter ID is essential, secure vote is essential. It is an individual responsibility to vote. Using the tech can be good, as long as outside irganizations dont skew the info and chisel votes.

  2. The problem with corruption and the ability to purge, gerrymander, suppress the votes. Paper ballots are the only way…… however, the US is not a democracy.

  3. The system is fundamentally flawed, it should be radically changed, getting more people to vote and distributing information will not change anything.

  4. > The American election system is complicated, to say the least
    It's piss easy compared to pretty much most european states.

  5. First you need to go and lock up all the republicans who keep trying to supress the votes. Then you can move on to other things like making every public school and hall a place you can vote.

  6. Huh? Did she say "electoral college"?
    Nah. Didn't think so. How about abolishing gerrymandering? Marginalizing minority votes? Intentional obstacles in the ways of opposition voters?
    It's all nice and dandy to polish the paint on your car, but it won't amount to much if your engine beneath the hood is rotten to the core, honey.

  7. Wyoming has 0.5 mill people and 2 senators. California has 40 mill people and 2 senators. Representation is way off in the U.S.

  8. Well, if kat and marie wanted to make a website then they should've just used squarespace.

    Lemme tell you about squarespace. Squarespace is an online learning community….

    Oh wait, that's skillshare…

  9. The best voting system is the one where we get to vote on an individual level with every single interaction we have. That's called "having control over our wallets". This can't happen when we vote for people to control our wallets on our behalf. No matter how people try to reform government, it will never cease to be corrupted by special interests who use it for their own purposes.

  10. National ID designating citizen vs noncitizen resident vs visitor. Electronic voting machines that print out two receipts so the voter an verify their vote is properly cast. One for the voter. One for a vote audit box.

  11. I thank goodness for ladies like Duchess Meghan Markle, because many White/Black multiracial women fall into the pit of living very Unfruitful lives due to dating, and getting pregnant, by black men – most of which are generally no good.

  12. For the 21st century we must do without a voting system. Not change it but eliminate it! Its about time when mankind realize the futility of such a system where the great majority has not accurired the information necessary to make an informed decision and even if it was like that there is no point nor there is freedom on voting once every four years for people that do not represent everyone of those whom they claim to represent.

  13. The thing is moving forward leaves conservatives behind by definition. They'd never win again assuming a fair race that they don't cheat in.

  14. Not that I disagree as such, but this is asking people to participate more while the system is inherently corrupt (legal forms of corruption where some campaigns have huge amounts of money/marketing*), where legislation oddly vary, with "great electors" that screw the popular will, and with US mass media that have truly lost their journalistic ethics (and by far!).

    * I am in Canada where money for electoral campaigns is severely limited, to a degree US citizens would not believe. Only individuals can donate to a party in Canada and only a small amount of about 100$/year! Imagine that! It is a totally different universe in comparison to US plutocracy. Results vary 😛 but we have ordinary people who get elected (I met a lot of folks who lived with small work wages, get elected for the State [province] or federation). Yes, most parties still tend to serve the interests of an elite, but there is greater variety in our parliaments.

  15. Where I'm from, Voter turnout is so good, that we even have Dead people voting! Heck! Sometimes votes outnumber the population living in the region.

  16. I'm all for improving our voting system, but do not centralize it because then you're asking for a huge data breach at some point. We're a Republic of States. Voting laws will vary state by state as well as county by county & even city by city. That's how it should be. Keep the system close to the voters. But there HAS to be citizenship verification. Non-citizen voting is nothing short of election tampering and is illegal.

  17. A vote for a leader, is a vote against yourself.
    A vote for a law, is a vote against freedom.
    DONT VOTE!!!

    Instead of voting, people should think for them selves, live their own lives, and let everyone live their own, instead of trying to live every one elses lives for them. The governments violence, will never bring peace, their terrorism will never bring safety, nor prosperity. If we want TRUE freedom, peace, and prosperity, we need anarchy. its the only option.

  18. I live in Mercer County. I have no idea what she's talking about. When I move, my voter registration moves with me. Technology is what's CAUSED the problem. This woman isn't the answer, she's the problem

  19. There needs to be some accountability for information sources to induce bias by providing more/less information about certain things or candidates. It's easy to make anyone and anything look good or bad just by how you frame things. Just ask the MSM.

  20. America won't be able to solve any of their problems until their solve their cultural problem. It's a country full of uneducated loudmouths. Educate your people (all of them, not just white kids in rich neighbourhoods whose parents have connections) and then worry about getting them to vote. An entire country is encouraged to speak first, think later. Meanwhile the state of native reservations is ignored, the education and housing problems are ignored, the political corruption is ignored, but if we get more people to vote maybe things will turn out better! Voting more corrupt people into power who don't plan to help is never going to fix any of these issues, you have to focus on teaching the average person how to deal with or outright fix them within their own smaller communities.

  21. Her points are valid, but we are in serious need of Ranked Choice voting as well. First past the post voting has created a two party forced dichotomy which is destroying this country. More access and information is super important as she says, but as long we have a system that doesn't allow third party candidates a fair chance without spoiling the odds for the top two candidates, we are not going to be truly representing the desires of the masses. Also we need to get money out of politics.

  22. The first place I ever voted was in Mercer County, WV back in the 1970s. With the ballot I was given a pencil for a write-in (Ken Hechler was my choice). I asked the poll worker for a pen and he told me they use pencils. I told him that with a pencil he could erase my vote and change it and his response was, "do you have any other questions?"

    I hope it has changed since those days.

  23. Electing is NOT voting !
    Electing is NOT democracy !
    When we elect we renounce to vote.
    Election brings oligarchy. Only sortition is democratic.
    The only real democracy that existed was the one in ancient greece. Where richs never had control over the people.

  24. No matter how good your system might get you will still have essentially a corrupt group of politicians with only self serving interests.

  25. This is well and good. But you need to address the Republican efforts to disenfranchise groups. That is not your aged tech It's a direct effort to "rig" voting in their favor with no regard for Constitutional rights of people in those groups. They are hypocrites and thieves and immoral citizens. They should be locked up. Voting is fundamental to citizenship. Period.

  26. Seems more likely that we're seeing less voting because the voting public are becoming rapidly more educated. Less sheep. I personally will never vote again, for the explicit reason that unless I know the person, have talked to them face to face, know their intent, their personality, their truthful qualities; I absolutely cannot trust them to govern me. Inform me all you like about the candidate, but there's no way to prove an ounce of it as factual or true.

  27. I think this is absolutely ridiculous. If you have people who are so dumb that they can't even figure out how to vote, are they smart enough to make good decisions about how society should be run. If you look into the history of the forming of the United States, voting was made difficult so responsible intelligent people would vote. I think that during every election there should be a test given, approved by all stakeholders in the election, that would show that people who are voting have an idea of what they are voting for. We have way too many elections where professional election consultants use all kinds of techniques that have nothing to do with educating the population to get uninformed people to vote in specific ways. How many times have we suffered as a nation under legislation that was put forward by people who were voted in because they look good, can speak in emotional keyword tested speeches who know virtually no history and have no real idea of what has worked in the past and what hasn't. We need smart people on both the left and the right to vote, not people who are so dumb they can't figure out how to vote!!!

  28. I wasn't thinking that 'we have the technology'. Nor of volunteering at my local election office. I was thinking that anyone with the mind of a ted audience member knows that the fundamental 'politics' system is such a ridiculous joke that 'what does it matter how elections are done'.

  29. 1, Voter photo ID, proof of citizenship and blockchain technology on the custody of every ballot. 2. Standardize ballots, at least for a state, and counties and cities in that state. 3. Allow elections to span 2 days … Friday & Saturday. 4. A mandatory senior high school class to teach some of these basics, including the importance of being educated on issues. 5. Turn off cable news channels 🙂

  30. It is intentional and its wrong, the lobbiest want more voting power to their own ppl. by making it harder to vote for some ppl and easier for others.

    And then there is the gerrymandering…

  31. In Australia, we vote for a party believing they will stand by their election promises. Then they realise how out of depth they are once they’re in power. They break all promises. They blame the opposition. They turn on themselves and depose of the prime minister and instate another who has NFI. They lose the next election. Rinse and repeat and onto the next party.

  32. What's needed to bring the US voting system into the 21st century, are candidates that aren't orange dickwads. Stop embarrassing yourself in front of the whole world.

  33. There should be an app on your phone that you can log into and vote through. You can log in with your social security number and have your local courthouse verify your identity and profile. Every bill and every candidate will have a synopsis and information on their ideals and links to their campaign websites. Using your home address it will only send you location specific information. It can send you reminders, and voters can submit petitions to be passed around to be signed.

  34. BS… I've NEVER had any "barriers" keeping me from voting. These people are too stupid, or lazy to vote. Probably Democrats. As long as they lose elections then they claim the system is "broken".

  35. There is a reason it is not online. All you're doing is making it easy to get hacked. There is no such thing as secure when it comes to online. Sure you can put firewalls and encryption in place but you cannot call that secure. They are only speed bumps at best.

  36. Before I watch this video: Please don't say electronic voting, please don't advocate for such an easily exploitable design, please don't say online, please don't allow hacking to be even more of a problem.

    Now let's see what they have to say.

    After the video: Okay, good, yes, this is fine, it didn't even go into the part I was concerned about, I have nothing to add, have a nice day!

  37. In NZ election day is on a Saturday (but you can submit your vote the whole week leading up to election day) and polling booths are everywhere. In our last election I just swung by the voting booth near our local supermarket on my way home from work and it took me literally 2 minutes to vote. It blows my mind how America is so archaic in everything they do compared to the other western countries.

  38. The opposite is true for me . The more technological and computerised the more confusing and frustrating and the harder it is to find a live person on hand who can actually assist me ! At least don't assume everyone is computer savvy and provide different options .

  39. In France we had 11 different candidates for the presidential election…11 ! With completely different ideas. By law, the medias had to allow them to speak on tv. In the US, there are only 2 candidates from the establishment totally corrupted by lobbyists. That's why Americans don't want to vote. they are tired of this farce

  40. There is a large portion of the government that doesn't want people to vote. If every politician was concerned about democracy, the system wouldn't be such a joke.
    Yes, everyone should have to show ID to vote. And getting that ID should be made easy as long as you have the correct documentation. But there also needs to be standard voting practices across the country. And while we're doing that, we should implement term limits and campaign finance reform.

  41. I think the root of the problem is the first past the post voting system which naturally leads to restricted choice and divisive rhetoric and representation. It explains voter apathy and disengagement way better than this video does. offers a fantastic overview of why.

  42. Given the like/dislike ratio, I thought she would demand abolishing the electoral college or an otherwise controversial topic. She didn't have novel points, but nothing too controversial, what's up with the like/dislike ratio?

  43. Her premise that there are major impediments to voting is seriously flawed. The rest is, therefore, without serious merit.

  44. So, here's someone who thinks the "hive mind" is the better source of political solutions. I, OTOH, believe that there should be FEWER voters and that they should pass a test: basic economics, history, systems of government. Here's a question on my test: Historically, which form of economics has had the greater effect in raising the standard of living of the people living within it – A) Socialism B) Capitalism. I would note that the TED speaker here is proud of her association with those who redistribute our nations wealth through Food Stamps. I would rather she have NOTHING to do with our voting systems.

  45. Yeah, it's really hard to color in those circles, see, once I get started, I end up having so much fun, I color in ALL the circles and then they don't count my vote. That's racist!

  46. 1) Raise the (federal) voting age to 25.

    2) Make the (presidential) election ranked choice and lose the electoral college.

    3) Make the (federal presidential) election compulsory.

    4) (Federal) suffrage can only be denied to convicted prisoners and involuntarily commited psychiatric patients. And-obviously-legal immigrants (ie. NOT American citizens).

    5) Mail-in ballots and polling CENTERS (rather than a prescribed polling SITE).

    6) Include write-in nominations and spoiled votes.

  47. If the Supreme Court rules against one of the ranked-choice system in Maine or similar ones, then you will need a constitutional amendment to allow for anything different.

    You will absolutely need to change the perception that the government making this easy (websites, training, etc.) is anti-American.

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