Monday, November 30, 2020

Bridging the Internet Divide in the Navajo Nation


In a previous blog post outlining the various challenges remaining to ensure that anyone anywhere can obtain quality education at little or no cost (the Straube Foundation’s mission), the first challenge identified was access to the internet.  The past almost-year of pandemic quarantining has only highlighted the number of households who do not have regular quality access to the internet.  Meaning that possibly tens of thousands of children have been left behind in their schooling.


The Navajo Nation provides a perfect example of the challenge of providing internet access in a large, thinly populated, remote rural area.  Due to the high incidence of Covid among the Navajo population, all K-12 schooling is currently online.  Many of the homes don’t have electricity or running water.  They are many miles from the nearest neighbor, and even further from the nearest school or public library or other wifi hotspot.  An estimated 50 percent of the Navajo Nation residents do not have an internet connection.  Stated another way, only 25 percent of the residences have broadband internet access.


The students and their families have taken heroic measures to ensure that the kids can keep up with their schoolwork.  Some hike to the top of a nearby hill every day to catch the elusive cell signal to download and upload assignments.  One high school student even moved to the big city (Phoenix) alone to earn income while finishing up school online.  And many of them drive long distances to access wifi.


The school district has instituted some measures to help.  It sends school buses around the reservation with assignments in hard copy, and returns to the school buildings (and teachers) with hard copy versions of the completed homework.  They have also outfitted 14 school buses with wifi, which are then parked in strategic locations several times a week.  The students or their parents drive to the school bus, and stay parked there for as long as needed. 


Depending on the distance between the students’ home and the parked school bus, they will stay parked there for however many hours it takes for the student to actually do the homework or to attend classes via zoom.  This allows the student to download homework, do the homework, and upload the completed assignments all in one sitting.  In some cases, this is a six-hour session next to the school bus wifi, not counting the round-trip from home (which can also take multiple hours)!  That’s dedication (and a full-time job for the students’ driver parent)!


Since Covid, the school district has put so much effort into online learning, they’ve received state approval of a fully online high school.  Now, let’s hope all the high school students can access the internet to take advantage of that learning opportunity.


Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Let’s bring the voting process into this day and age.  Let’s vote electronically.

 2020 voting in the USA is a horror story.  Our children and children’s children (not to mention the rest of the world) will have a hard time understanding the 2020 election process, as it was conducted in the most atrocious way.  People had to show up in person or use the mail, which then didn’t deliver all the ballots or didn’t process the returns in time to be counted.  Then, the counting took days, even weeks, was disputed, recounted, cut off and not counted.  Then, incumbent went to court to either stop the counting or to dispute the verity of paper ballots, or a specific group of paper ballots.  A nightmare if you ever wanted to see one, except that it really played out that way.

Common sense would have demanded that we vote electronically via our smart phones, handhelds, tablets, computers.  We already use these devices extensively every day, actually 9 hours per day or more on average.

Voting via one’s smart phone or equivalent is a lot more authentic and certainly prompt, no time delay whatsoever.  

So the question is why are we not voting electronically TODAY?  There is really no excuse for wasting paper for ballots and then battling about how that paper was handled.

At least four manufacturers of electronic voting machines already exist (  Electronic voting machines are already in use in various voting locations in the United States, for example in Illinois.

Then there is “ElectionBuddy” (, which will build you the voting software to make your electronic voting accurate and secure.  In other words: the technology exists.  Voting via your smartphone should be no problem at all.  After all, you can manage your bank account, send and receive any amount of money, by pushing the right buttons on your handheld, tablet or computer, any time from anywhere, also absolutely accurate and completely secure.  If the government wants to be super-secure in the voting, it could require that you use your fingerprint for identification and verification, which you may be doing already as your password on your iPhone.  Nothing is easier.  

Therefore it seems that there is really no reason at all not to change to electronic voting in all our elections.

Look at the cost this would reduce!  Dramatically.  And all the commotion, facilities, paid and unpaid workers, that would no longer be needed.  Actually most of it could be run by computers, only monitored and supervised by a few individuals who’d make sure the computers are working correctly.  No need for partisan hacks to come around to mess with the data.  Don’t you think that should be easy to do?

So why hasn’t it been done yet? Why are we still voting in the most medieval way?  Having to show up in person or fill out intricately designed ballots which need to be filled out format-correct, signed, sealed or unsealed according to instructions, and then entrusted to a Postal Service, which in more cases than not, may delay delivery past the voting day time.

Voting electronically is straight forward instead, much easier, 100% secure (see fingerprint), and eliminates all the means which, in one way or another, could be influenced by partisan management.  Plus a considerable side benefit:  Greatly reduced cost of the whole endeavor.

Thus it makes sense if electronic voting were adopted nationally.  In addition to the enormous cost savings, it would make our democracy better and stronger.  Congress or the president could use that electronic voting connection for gauging the country’s position on major issues which may need to be decided.  Congress could go back to the voters in midterm, or any time, to get their thinking on whatever the major issue might be. This ability would eliminate or at least greatly reduce the objections, or even hatred, building up for the next election date.  It would enable the government to govern better because of continuous feedback from the governed.  And the cost therefor would be negligible, if any.

The biggest concern circulating about electronic voting is the presumed possibility of hacking (such as by hackers on FaceBook and Twitter, the Russian disinformation campaigns, etc), and the subsequent alteration of votes to benefit a given candidate.  Well, these same hackers or others like them have been and are trying to crack into your and everybody else’s bank accounts online to move money into their hide-aways.  Yet, the banks’ electronic security systems have been and are making this a rather fruitless endeavor.  Of course the same would apply to the attempt of stealing electronic votes.

By the way, there ARE already countries which do use electronic voting extensively.  So far, Estonia seems to be the only country in the world that relies exclusively on what’s called “internet voting.”  In Canada, online voting is possible for municipal elections in Ontario and Nova Scotia.  Already in 2004, the Netherlands used i-voting for an election to the Rijnland Water Board and in 2006 (for overseas voters) for national elections.  In Switzerland some cantons offer online voting.  And more.

So, there is no good reason why the U.S. is so far behind in using electronic technology to make voting safer, faster, and more reliable.  Now, therefore, after this election is over and well before the next one is coming up, please go to your representative, your senator, the powers-that-be, and urge them to make our democracy stronger, greatly reduce the cost and circumstances of voting, by switching to electronic voting.  Yes, in the 21st century this is not only possible, it is high time to conduct our voting in a 21st century manner.  We just need to do it.