However, rather than being a simple case of energy efficiency, this debate is a complex one that goes right to the heart of the internet’s environmental credentials.
So with presidential elections just a month away, it’s a good time to look again at online voting and whether it could have a positive effect on the substantial environmental impact of a national election campaign.
Is online voting feasible in an election?
Online voting has been seriously considered by a number of countries (like Ireland and Canada, for example), while Estonia actually adopted internet based voting in its recent national elections, so the idea is not at all far-fetched.
Online voting can, in theory, have a number of beneficial political effects. Chief among these positive effects is increased participation, as internet voting would make it easier for traditional absentees such as the military, people working abroad and those not picked up by the electoral register because they have moved house, to vote in elections.
E-voting could also benefit the environment. As well as a reduction in paper and printer ink, significantly more campaigning could be done online as well, which could also work to lessen an election’s environmental impact.
So is online voting better for the environment?
There are a couple of points to be made here that suggest the answer to the above question is not quite as black and white as it would at first seem.
The first thing we need to look at is the environmental impact that the internet itself has. As we have recently seen from a great infographic here on Eco-Snobbery Sucks, there is a good argument for downloading video games, but does the same argument apply to online voting?
Trying to evaluate the true environmental footprint of the internet is very difficult. What we do know is that the internet is extremely energy intensive. In 2005 the USA had over 10 million data centers which were collectively using enough energy to power the entire of the UK for a two month period. The 62 trillion spam emails that are sent every year are equivalent in CO2 terms to 1.6 million cars driving a full circumnavigation of the globe.
Another problem is that even if everyone begins to vote online, politicians are still going to have to fly around the country, produce campaign literature and all the other damaging practices that are currently part and parcel of a national election.
One final issue is the sheer complexity of the national system that would be needed to facilitate large scale online voting of this kind. Unlike most other internet transactions the point of voting is that it is completely anonymous. Is it feasible to construct a server that removes all traces of your presence once you have voted but keeps the individual vote, without it being hugely energy intensive?
Online voting is still a long way from being a viable option for national elections in the US. Would you vote online if you had the option to, and do you think the environmental impact counteracts the security risks that e-voting presents?
[Photo: Theresa Thompson/Flickr]
About this author: Louise Blake is a new mum and aspiring writer who writes for White Pages. She runs her home with the help, and sometimes hindrance, of her husband, Harley the puppy, and baby George.