What is the Impact of Voting on the Environment?

With the close of the midterm elections, many are glad to end the discussion on voting. With the constant barrage of political ads on TV and even via text message, the next proposition or candidate is the last thing on many voters’ minds.

Even though election fever has subsided, one of the often-forgotten pieces of elections is the environmental impact of voting. Our society gets so caught up in policy and candidates that we fail to think about the impact that the physical process of voting has on the world around us.

How Does Voting Affect the Environment?

Almost all states use some form of paper ballot. There are only five states that run their elections without paper ballots – Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina, New Jersey, and Delaware. There are also nine other states that use a combination of both paper ballots and electronic machines – Pennsylvania, Texas, Kansas, Florida, Tennessee, Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, and Mississippi.

Although the most secure, paper ballots generate plenty of waste. From the envelopes used for mail-in ballots to the physical ballots themselves, an election is a very paper-intensive project. After an election, ballots are stored for about 22 months, at which point local authorities can dispose of them, usually by shredding.

While it may not seem like a lot of waste, in the 2014 midterm election, there were over 83 million ballots counted. Current projections for the 2018 midterms put that figure in the 114 million range. And the examples above only include midterms. Turnout in presidential elections is generally much higher and local city elections happen all the time. Therefore, every year we are forced to scrap and attempt to recycle millions of pounds of paper, adding to the 71.8 million tons of paper waste that the US generates each year.

Are Electronic Voting Machines Any Better?

Some argue that electronic voting machines can have a positive environmental impact. While this is true regarding paper waste, there are a few important caveats with electronic voting machines:

-        Electronic voting machines need power. Unless they run on solar power, they would still be using resources.

-        With the pace that technology advances, these devices will become quickly outdated or need to be replaced, thus generating e-waste. In the United States, we already scrap about 400 million units of consumer electronics every year.

-        The simple act of driving to the nearest polling place likely does more environmental damage that the ballot you cast. Unless voters are able to walk or bike to the polls, they are still burning fuel and generating carbon dioxide to reach the ballot box.

What is the Best Option for the Environment?

Other than cutting down on paper waste, which can only be seen as a positive, electronic voting machines do not represent a large step forward for the environment. Coupled with the fact that electronic voting machines are not seen as secure, electronic voting machines do not seem like the right answer.

The most environmentally friendly form of voting would be to vote via the internet. Voters would not have to rely on paper ballots, drive to the nearest polling station, or use any devices other than the ones they already own. Moreover, even though 29 states have laws that allow you take time off work to vote, internet voting would reduce the transaction cost of participation and have a positive impact on turnout.

That said, the security technology is simply not there yet for a country as large as the United States and likely will not be for some time. With such high stakes, it is not a risk the country can afford to take. Estonia does have an e-voting system that has been in place since 2005, but it is a country of only about 1 million eligible voters with a national ID card system. Even then, a 2014 team at the University of Michigan found that interfering with Estonia’s election is possible, even though it may not have happened yet.

Therefore, it appears that until the technology is created, we are stuck with the traditional paper ballot methods that have been around since ancient Roman times. Hopefully with the rapid pace by which technology advances, one day soon we will have a voting system that maximizes both efficiency and care for the environment.

54 comments

Maria P
Maria Pyesterday

Thanks for sharing

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David C
David C1 days ago

Ronald Walker is correct, we need safe verifiable elections...….

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David C
David C1 days ago

thanks, I don't need an "I Voted" sticker...…..

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Lisa M
Lisa M2 days ago

Thanks.

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Lisa M
Lisa M2 days ago

Thanks.

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Leo C
Leo Custer2 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

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RONALD Walker
RONALD Walker2 days ago

What you are saying is great. The problem in our system was hacked by the Russian! Now you are 100% about the cost and energy being used. New ideas are needed! It's like lynching was in the old west! Everyone has a right to a trail. That is the cost for our freedom! A paper ballot is a way checking the vote. So recounts can be done fast and secure. The cost to vote is far less than a war. So there are ways of finding better and safer ways to do our vote! Right each state and country must pay the cost. With cutting taxes for the rich is costing us our right to vote!

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danii p
danii p4 days ago

Thank you

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danii p
danii p4 days ago

Thank you

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danii p
danii p4 days ago

Thank you

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