Friday, March 8, 2013

How Internet Voting challenged the Oscars

Photo: Miss Karen
As we mentioned on an earlier post, this year’s Academy Awards have been used lately as a cautionary tale against the implementation of Internet voting in precinct voting. So what’s the story of this blunder, and why has it become so significant for larger elections? The damages are weightier than you might think. 

Big productions like “Les Miserables” or “Lincoln” were expected to be favored this year, as had been the case traditionally. However, 2013 unexpectedly opened the doors to independent and foreign movies such as “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and the French “Amour.” This happened not because of a sudden change of mind from the Oscar committee, but because of the new electronic platform that had been adopted for the election. It was denounced that the older members of the Academy—a vast majority—were altogether unfamiliar with the platform and therefore had great difficulty casting their ballots. The Academy moved the voting deadlines, but it failed to provide proper training to these baffled voters. The effect was a list of nominees made of votes that were initially associated to the younger voters’ thinking, and to how these young voters had been able to understand the new system.

However, it surfaced later that even the younger members had problems voting due to a terribly faulty Internet Voting platform. By then, though, it was already too late to recall the results.

At first glance, this looks like a minor mishap, even a welcome one for pop culture. After all, the public would definitely want to see a more progressive Academy instead of watching the same blockbusters win over and over again. However, no matter how positive the result seemed, the fact is that most of the Academy members had been disenfranchised. This does not mean that electronic voting shouldn’t have been implemented altogether, but that the implementation of electoral technology should have been gradual and inclusive, and the Academy failed to accomplish both aspects. Not to mention that the most important poll in the world of cinema was handled with an online voting system of substandard quality.

It goes without saying that a reliable e-voting platform is easier to use than any manual electoral method, and certainly easier than a botched online-based system, which is why blaming the failure to cast an e-ballot on old age is terribly irresponsible. The liability clearly lies on the authorities in charge of its implementation. Not only is it important to know how to choose a proper electoral technology platform, but it is also vital to instrument it gradually in order for everyone to understand it. It does not matter whether the implementation is for small elections, as was the case with the Oscars: a slow immersion with drills and active participation from the electorate defines the success or failure of an automated election. 

When it comes to elections, no matter their scale, choosing an adequate technology is key. It is the duty of the authorities in charge to make sure the electoral platform employed is actually useful, so that nobody is left behind. There are no excuses.