Friday, March 27, 2015

New Mexico may introduce biometric voter authentication

It doesn't matter how well an election appears to be run or how smoothly the voting process goes for each constituent if the voting public cannot have a great deal of confidence that the integrity of the election and its results are suitably upheld. This includes the security and confidentiality of each individual ballot, to be sure, and it also includes the importance of eliminating voter fraud and ensuring that each person voting is adequately authenticated and verified.

There are many people who have spoken about the perceived voter fraud throughout the United States and various measures have been taken by the individual states to overcome this concern. However, some of these efforts have been perceived as unilaterally impacting disenfranchised citizens or individuals of a particular demographic that may be more inclined to vote for one political party than another.

The voter registration and proof of citizenship requirements in Arizona are one such example of this and it has become an incredibly contentious issue for everyone involved. Such laws, according to many Democrats, make voting more difficult for demographics that are more likely to support Democrats, including the Hispanic and Latino community.

To counteract this, a Republican Senator William Payne is proposing that biometric voter identification technology be implemented in the state of New Mexico. In his proposal, Payne says that he hopes to “put to rest the criticism that voters cannot afford to produce reliable photo identification when they vote.”

While the proposal is certainly still in its early stages and is decidedly up for debate, Payne offered the example of using everyday devices like a regular consumer smartphone as a method of identifying a voter using biometric data. “This is already commercially available,” he stated, “and it has nothing to do with the technical literacy of the person.”

That statement may be questionable and securing the legitimacy and security of a smartphone may be an incredible challenge, but the concept of utilizing existing technology for the purposes of voter authentication need to be explored. Smartphones like the Galaxy S5 from Samsung and the iPhone 6 from Apple have fingerprint readers on them. Using an off-the-shelf solution like these biometric fingerprint readers is far more cost-effective and far more of a proven system than if governments were to develop a brand new solution from the ground up.

The appeal of a biometric system for voter identification and verification is undeniable. Biometric technology has already been used in other elections around the world as an effective means of protecting against election fraud. If developing countries like Tanzania, Ghana and Kenya can explore and implement biometrics, the state of New Mexico should not ignore this possibility. It has been very successful in elections in Venezuela, for instance.

While some of the existing systems and infrastructure can make it difficult for the poor and disenfranchised to register to vote, biometric systems can be far more effective. Indeed, the US electoral system should adopt biometrics for this very reason. Mexico was able to register 95% of its population with biometric identity cards. There's no reason why New Mexico can't do the same.

To simultaneously reduce voter fraud and to encourage greater voter turnout among disenfranchised and marginalized demographics, biometrics can represent the future of security in increasingly electronically-geared elections. Anyone can swipe a fingerprint or have their iris scanned and it is far more difficult for fraudsters to spoof these identifying features.