A bill introduced by Ward 2 D.C. Councilmember Brooke Pinto on Feb. 18 that would allow District residents to cast an absentee ballot digitally has generated support among key African-American leaders.
The bill, the Mobile Voting Options for Turnout Equity Amendment Act of 2022, would allow residents to use their smartphones, tablets or computers to vote and direct the D.C. Board of Elections [BOE] to establish a secure system that protects voter information and election integrity.
“Our city and nation have well established values that voting rights are civil rights; enfranchising District residents by making voting easy and accessible for all is fundamentally important in advancing those values,” said Pinto, a Democrat, in a news release. “Despite District efforts to increase voting access, many residents continue to face voting barriers.”
Pinto noted in 2018, less than 19% of D.C. registered voters voted in the 2018 primary and only 46% casted a ballot in the general election, according to statistics from the BOE. Even in the 2020 election cycle that had a historic turnout, Pinto said only 28% of registered voters voted in the primary and 67% in the general election.
Kemry Hughes, a Ward 8 representative to the D.C. Democratic State Committee, likes Pinto’s legislation.
“Mobile voting is the way to go,” Hughes said. “Mobile voting will make casting a ballot more accessible to people. We have an aging population that may not be able to make it to the polls comfortably. We also have people who are disabled and cannot come to the polls and vote without some hardship. Mobile voting works because nearly everyone has a computer in their hand.”
Specifics of the Mobile Voting Bill
Under Pinto’s legislation, voters wouldn’t need to visit a polling location. In a manner similar to electronic confirmation of filing tax returns, voters can verify their ballot choices as being recorded correctly and track them to confirm their submissions have been accurately received and accepted.
Pinto said 85% of District adults owned a smartphone in 2021 and noted financial transactions such as filing taxes and managing bank accounts are done by devices. The bill also contains measures to guard against hacking and calls for routine maintenance by BOE staff.
Pinto’s bill was co-introduced by D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) and Councilmembers Trayon White, Sr. (D-Ward 8), Christina Henderson (D-Ward 2), Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1), Anita Bonds (D-At Large), Robert C. White (D-At Large) and Vincent C. Gray (D).
Supporters Praise the Bill and Voice Concerns
Akosua Ali, who serves as the president of the District’s branch of the NAACP, embraces mobile voting.
“The NAACP calls for mobile voting as an additional option to increase voter participation in the District of Columbia because mobile voting can help eliminate voting barriers and increase voter participation among Black voters,” she said in an email to the Informer.
“Recent polling showed 70% of D.C. residents supported the idea of mobile voting. In 2020, less than 58% of nonwhite voters participated,” she said.
Ali said, “voting rights are under attack nationwide but in the District of Columbia, we have a historic opportunity to become the first to allow residents to vote from their mobile devices,” she said. “The NAACP works to ensure voting is accessible for all. Voters should not be forced to choose between working and casting their vote. Black and brown people disproportionately work in front-line service industries, offering restricted access to leave work to vote during business hours. Voting should be safe-guarded, easy and accessible to all because our lives depend on it.”
Tajuan Farmer, the legislative chair of the National Federation of the Blind of DC, said “the mobile voter bill will make sure that I, as a blind person and a person of color, will have my voice heard.”
“Special adjustments can be made to my smartphone device so I can vote by way of voice,” Farmer said. “I won’t have someone standing over me at a polling place looking at who I am voting for. Besides, I won’t even have to go to a polling place if this bill becomes law.”
The Rev. Lionel Edmonds, president of the Missionary Baptist Ministers Conference, Washington, D.C. and Vicinity, said concerns about hacking, while valid, appear to be addressed in Pinto’s legislation.
“We will work out the bugs in the system if there is an attack,” he said. “We know there are enemies of democracy and we will deal with those enemies. The good outweighs the bad. You don’t stop putting money in the bank just because there is a hack.”