Two such ideas have surfaced in recent days.
The first is online voting, announced Tuesday as a pilot project in Utah County for active-duty military members serving overseas, presumably with smartphones in their pockets or a strong desire to cast ballots while in pajamas.
The second is a new refrain on term limits, an idea that has persisted through more than a generation of failed attempts in Utah.
Internet voting has been the golden orb floating on the political horizon ever since the information age began, but no one has yet succeeded in firmly grasping it. I first wrote about this in 2000, about the same time hordes of people were poring over hanging chads in Florida, hoping to find a new president.
Back then, I quoted an official who talked about a system that would rely on a personal digital signature to secure a registered voter and allow him or her to vote online. Every ballot would generate two hard copies, one the voter could print at home, and another that would print at the county clerk’s office -- just in case someone wanted to do a manual recount. I was skeptical, especially about the promises of “firewalls and security” to protect democracy.
I would argue that skepticism has been justified.
This was before some of the monumental data breaches at companies ranging from Target to Equifax — places that had a lot to lose and still found themselves compromised. It was before the Russians decided to make the hacking of American elections a type of video game more popular than all-you-can-eat pelmeni.
It also was before some other nations, most notably Norway, tried online voting and were forced to hit ctrl+alt+delete because of security concerns. Why should we believe the internet suddenly has become a safe place for democracy?
Utah’s Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and Utah County officials say their experiment would be only for municipal primary and general elections this year. It’s a collaborative effort with the National Cybersecurity Center, Tusk Philanthropies and a mobile app called Voatz, whose senior vice president was quoted by the Deseret News as saying the system was “virtually unhackable.”
“I’m not saying it’s impossible to hack because you never know until it’s done,” he said.
And that’s the problem.
I applaud the effort. I’ve had several discussions with Cox through the years about Internet voting. He believes it’s inevitable and would increase participation in Democracy.
But it would take just one setback, one batch of compromised ballots, to ruin public confidence, which would inject widespread distrust into democracy.
If you haven’t been on social media lately, a lot of people are passionate about politics. A lot of them believe in winning at all costs. That could translate into a lot of motivation to cause mischief.
Maybe the pilot project will demonstrate that all those problems have been overcome by a fail-proof system, but it would take a lot of proof to get me away from my paper, mail-in ballot.
Term limits, meanwhile, suffer from one overwhelming problem — the Legislature.
We’ve been through this already. In 1994, just when it seemed inevitable that voters would pass an initiative to make limits the law, the Legislature decided to cast a pre-emptive vote in favor of its own version, which imposed 12-year limits on lawmakers.
Fast forward to 2003. Just when that law was about to bite its first group of incumbents, lawmakers repealed it.
This time, the idea is being championed by the United Utah Party, which announced an initiative drive for a measure that would limit lawmakers, once again, to 12 years. The governor, lieutenant governor, treasurer, auditor and attorney general would get eights years.
This version has an interesting twist. If you sit out a complete term, you could run again.
This is smart politics for Utah’s fledgling third party, which has yet to win an election. Term limits are popular. Voters are, of course, free to simply reject politicians who have served a long time, but often good candidates shy away from challenging those incumbents.
But if you watched what happened to the ballot initiatives that passed last November, you know Utah’s Legislature always gets the last word, and lawmakers are not afraid to overturn voter decisions.
The logical answer to that would be an initiative to stop lawmakers from messing with successful initiatives.
We’ll probably see one of those about the time hackers stop trying to mess with the internet.