App Clips and eSignatures: the key to online voting?

Election 2020 is going to look very different from all those that came before it. As the United States draws closer to casting its presidential votes, the conversation about fraud prevention is occurring against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While a majority of states are allowing constituents to cast their vote by mail to mitigate health and safety risks, some people will only be able to do so if they have a valid excuse – pandemic not included.

As voting from a distance migrates into the mainstream, one can’t help but draw a parallel with all of the other in-person processes that have been taken online since COVID-19 began. However, due to data security concerns, remote voting remains reliant on hard-copy paper and snail mail. 

The conversation about online ballot-casting is a complex one, fraught with worry about hacking and fraud. However, in-person voting is far from immune to those same ills: think ballot box stuffing, duplicate voting, and even impersonating deceased individuals to cast extra votes. We’re here to explore whether eSignatures can be the catalyst for change, and successfully take the process online once and for all.

The trouble with online voting

There is certainly a risk to conducting an election online. Large-scale hacking, data integrity issues, DDoS attacks, malware … for all of these reasons and more, digitized voting has yet to make it to the mainstream. 

Most recently, OmniBallot was slammed for having multiple security vulnerabilities that compromised the very data it was supposed to keep safe: this begs the question of whether a dedicated software is the best avenue for rolling out online voting, versus a solution that already exists.

Technology to the rescue?

Given the strict regulations surrounding elections, voting, and ballot submission, it will probably be a while before eSignatures become the standard for casting your vote in a presidential race. For now, gathering signatures for candidate nomination is the most realistic use case for eSigning in the context of an election.

In Montana, Attorney General hopeful John Meyer is leveraging SignEasy to capture eSignatures for his nomination campaign. Montana residents are using our template link feature to access the online petition, and once they’ve eSigned, they are redirected back to the campaign website.

Most recently, the iOS 14 launch has opened the door to further opportunities: Apple’s new App Clips feature could make it even easier for nominees to collect people’s signatures using the same kind of template link as we mentioned above. App Clips introduce users to a relevant “clip” of a mobile app instead of prompting them to download the whole thing – they can be triggered by a nearby NFC tag, a scanned QR code, or a Smart App Banner in Safari.

Nominees could post their App Clip code on their website, send it off in an email, or print it on a campaign flyer to give people a simple, frictionless path to signature.

The eSignature edge

People have relied on electronic signatures to sign sensitive documents for years. Here’s why we think they could change the game for online voting as we know it.

They’re legally binding

When someone can’t provide their wet ink signature in-person, eSignatures are considered to be a legally binding stand-in on a global scale. In the United States, these rules are governed by the eSIGN Act

All 50 states have enacted laws that validate electronic signatures, and all but three have adopted the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA). Illinois, New York, and Washington have not adopted the UETA, but have similar statutes validating electronic transactions.

When a document is processed using SignEasy, an audit trail is also created that directly links each signer to the document: everyone receives a copy of their signed document via email, and SignEasy records the time of signature, file name, and signer information to create an immutable record of the transaction.

They’re protected by encryption

Thanks to an embedded user ID that links every eSignature to a registered email, eSignature encryption can help prevent voter fraud. Each vote is tied to an individual, and it reaches the ballot directly, whereas voting machines can be rigged internally (which leaves them wide open to tampering, duplication, and more).

They’re much more efficient than in-person voting

In 2016, just 56% of voting-age Americans cast a ballot in the federal election, putting the U.S. quite far behind many other developed countries in terms of voter turnout. If there was a faster, more efficient way for Americans to vote, would participation increase? Could online voting contribute to building a more democratic, engaged populace?

Instead of waiting in line at a polling station, sometimes for hours, eSignatures would enable people to submit their votes from the comfort of home, and within minutes. By providing a more convenient option than showing up at a physical location, eSignatures would also be throwing a lifeline to those affected by voter suppression – a complex issue that is due in part to polling station closures, excessive wait times, and complicated registration procedures.

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