The US postal service and mailing in of votes are at the centre of the political storm being played out now. Could going all digital be the way out, if not now then later? Image Credit: AFP

Remember the days when hands used to ache from writing greetings cards? When kids would wait excitedly to receive letters from pen pals or write-in to TV show competitions? Remember when we used to flick through catalogues before filling in the perforated form and mailing our orders? Remember cheques?

They might all still exist as options, but they are options we rarely take up. Instead, we recall them with nostalgia – signs and souvenirs of bygone times. Since then, technology has taken over.

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These days, there are no papercuts, no inky fingers, and no anxious waits for a reply. Many of us don’t even recognize our own handwriting anymore and struggle to sign on the dotted line. The advancement of the internet means that we don’t write, we don’t send mail, and we certainly do not wait.

So the question begs, if we can shop, chat, transact, and even pay taxes at the touch of a button, why on earth are we discussing voting by mail? In this digital world of ours, why has casting a vote by post not joined the other relics of the analogue age?

Instead of remembering it fondly as one of the many things we used to do “back in the day”, the antiquated mail-in system is ever present. In fact, it is rapidly becoming one of the most contentious topics of the year.

An alternate reality

Unless you have been hiding under a rock in recent weeks, you’ll know that mail-in voting has become a hotly debated topic in the US, and one that is further polarizing political views in the run up to November’s presidential election. Critics of Donald Trump accuse him of deliberately attempting to hamstring the US Postal Service (USPS) to help his re-election bid.

In the President’s view, widespread postal voting will undermine the whole election process and leave it wide open to fraudulent behaviour, not to speak of the letters that get lost in the mail.

Now I’m not about to go down the road of who’s right and who’s wrong, but on whichever side of the political fence you sit, there is a more fundamental issue here that crosses the political divide. While the mail-in debate continues to drive an even deeper wedge in American society, the real issue is not about the merits or disadvantages of the postal vote, it’s about why the option exists at all.

Tools are there

In the year 2020, we have the tools, the infrastructure and the knowhow to fundamentally transform the way we vote. By using cybersecure biometrics and other advanced technologies, we can streamline the voting process, eliminate error, open access, increase confidence and frankly make the entire experience easier, safer and more convenient for the voting population.

Critics of digital voting say that it’s exclusionary, but I don’t see it that way. Now I might be wrong, but I have a strong suspicion those who don’t turn out to vote in person or by mail are by and large the same people who would not cast their ballot online.

And let’s face it, if seeking out a computer and internet connection seems too much like hard work to a potential voter, then that person is just as unlikely to fill in a paper ballot and walk down the street to the nearest mail box.

Level field

The voting population deserves better. If the US is the world’s biggest democracy, then technology is the world’s greatest democratizer. Technology doesn’t exclude or discriminate, it opens up new possibilities to each and every one of us, regardless of who, what or where we are.

It might be too late to vote in America’s next president from your smartphone, but it is never too late to start making the change. Technology can be true force for positive change, and in a world filled with murky politics, it certainly gets my vote.

- Tommy Weir is CEO of enaible: AI-powered leadership and author of ‘Leadership Dubai Style’. Contact him at tsw@tommyweir.com.