Hey! Know-It-Alls! Can I Vote Online?


Our in-house experts answer questions about your interactions with technology.

Q: Hey! Know-It-Alls! Can I Vote Online?

A: You can use the internet to post a tweet that loses you billions of dollars, if you are Elon Musk. Or that nearly starts a war, if you are the president of the United States. But, unless you are serving overseas in the military, you cannot vote from your phone, or online at all. Sorry.

The reason is simple: there’s no existing technology that can ensure your vote wouldn’t be tampered with if sent electronically over the internet or a cellular network. Voting security experts say that even the apps and websites that overseas military are permitted to use to vote are not secure.

And given that elections are prime targets for hackers and meddlers, it’s simply too risky to prioritize your convenience over electoral security. In fact, any voting machine that relies on the internet is insecure, which is partially why experts are so enamored of the idea that we all vote the old way: on paper ballots, which can be audited and checked.

But don’t be discouraged! Voting in person can be fun! And it doesn’t have to be that hard. All you need is to be registered and know where to go.

So. Are you registered?

Yes? Great. The hardest part is over. Find out where to go by visiting your local election website, which you can find via this official handy USA.gov tool, or by checking out third-party websites and apps like Ballotopedia, Vote411, Democracy Works, and Vote.org. Some of these will even show you what’s on your ballot and let you compare candidates.

If you’re not registered, you still might be able to vote, if your state allows same-day registration—check the National Conference of State Legislatures website or those sites above to find out. If it’s allowed in your state, then bring your ID and a proof of residency like a utility bill with you when you go to your polling place, register, and fill out a ballot.

What if the polling place can’t find your name?

If for some reason the polling place doesn’t have your information, and if your state doesn’t allow you to register day-of, you can still ask to cast a provisional ballot. You can also do this if you try to vote at a different polling place than you are assigned to (though certain states won't count provisional ballots if you aren't in the correct precinct), or if your name has changed. You may also be asked to do this if you forget your ID and you live in a state with strict voter ID laws.

What should you bring?

If you’ve voted before, in most states you don’t need to bring anything—even an ID. If you are voting for the first time, or are in one the 17 states states that require an ID to vote, or the 34 states that have at least some voter ID requirements, bring it. You should probably just bring it.

In some states you can bring your phone into the voting booth with you, and even post a “ballot selfie,” but in others you can’t, so again, check your local election sites. You can always bring notes on who you want to vote for into the voting booth with you. Because you’re not being tested, the politicians are.

Emily Dreyfuss writes about tech and society and once forced a poll worker into the voting booth with her to check her ballot was filled out right, so she feels your voting pain.

What can we tell you? No, really, what do you want one of our in-house experts to tell you? Post your question in the comments.

  • The evolution of text-based horror stories
  • How Boston Dynamics' robot videos became internet gold
  • Meet the carousing Texan who just won a Nobel Prize
  • Fix society? No, regulatory hackers are just getting rich
  • How the US fought China's cybertheft—with a Chinese spy
  • Looking for more? Sign up for our daily newsletter and never miss our latest and greatest stories