Let's Stop Disenfranchising Citizens and Start Voting Online

Online voting will transform our political process.  It will improve turnout and make the U.S. a more democratic society.

 Let's Stop Disenfranchising Citizens and Start Voting Online

Online voting is here and will transform the way we participate in the political process. It will greatly improve turnout, making it easier for the young, the old and the inconvenienced to make have their say. Digital people have a right to digital democracy.


 Sure, we've grown used to the trouble it often takes to make our seemingly tiny voices heard. Whether you'll show up to cast that vote can often depend on the amount of enthusiasm or anger you feel, whether you're willing to brave the lines and deal with arcane registration and ID requirements, or even the weather. In fact, U.S. voter turnout of just above 50% of eligible voters for a Presidential Election trails most developed countries. 

And this year, there have been numerous instances of voter disenfranchisement, claimed by both republicans and democrats. Unbearably long lines and thousands of voter registration mistakes in Arizona and New York and a host of strange practices by the party officials like superdelegates, voterless elections, coin tosses deciding caucuses and the threats that nominating conventions will pick whomever the insiders want anyway. It's no wonder many people feel hopeless in ever changing the way things are.  The people whose business is politics do not really want outsiders to have much say in how they run it.

How does one of the world's highly advanced nations fix this and create a society where the will of its people is truly represented?  

The 2016 election cycle has been wild and unpredictable and already offered a genuine experiment in democracy. Among the ways to vote in the Republican Presidential Caucus of March 22nd was online voting (or i-voting). Any registered Republican Party voter with a smartphone, tablet or laptop could cast a vote from anywhere in the world as long as he or she previously registered to vote online (and received a PIN). Conveniently, you could cast your vote at any point between 7AM and 11pm. What’s also great, you could click on the links by the name of each candidate to learn more about their proposals. No longer did you have to make your decisions based on barely-remembered platforms. If you were afraid of fraud or that your vote wasn’t registered, you could check for your choice on the Utah Republican Party’s Bulletin Board by using the receipt number you got after casting the i-vote.  

UK-based Smartmatic is the leader in online voting technology and provided the support for Utah's i-voting venture. Smartmatic claims to have so far processed 2.5 billion verifiable votes “without a single discrepancy”. Since being inspired by Florida’s “hanging chad” fiasco in the 2000 elections, the company has developed the tech that has been contracted for electronic voting by cities and states in Chile, Venezuela, Argentina, Belgium, the Philippines, parts of Africa and other locations. The founder and CEO of the company Antonio Mugica makes the case that their work leads to peaceful elections and greater transparency in transforming governments. Such political stability, in turn, leads to economic improvements.

The main international i-voting powerhouse has been, surprisingly, the Baltic nation of Estonia. The country of 1.3 million has been allowing people to vote online since 2005 over 8 nationwide elections. About a third of the Estonian electorate has cast their votes via the internet in the past two elections. Technologically, the system developed by the Estonian Cybernetica is secured by digital or mobile ID authentication and encryption.  

Let the Prime Minister of Estonia Taavi Rõivas explain to you how they vote.

Of course, i-voting has its fair share of naysayers. In particular, many cybersecurity experts feel like online voting is not safe, can be manipulated, and is open to cyberattacks from hackers and malicious governments that can alter the outcomes. A study led by a team of experts, mostly from the University of Michigan, cast serious shade on the security of Estonia’s i-voting setup in a 2014 study. The Estonian National Electoral Committee dismissed their concerns by maintaining that the voting system had the correct safeguards and stood up to scrutiny and tests over the years.  

Utah's 2016 voting experiment also came under scrutiny for all manner of potential failures, from undue political influence by members of the tech company to breeches of privacy and potential vote-buying. None of these or previously-feared security disasters related to i-voting materialized, however. There were some issues to be sure, but they were mainly caused by the unusually high turnout and unexpected overloading of the voting website.

Will i-voting be implemented on a wider scale in the next election cycle? President Obama called for online voting in his recent address at the South by Southwest Festival. “We’re the only advanced democracy in the world that makes it harder for people to vote, “ said the President in his address. Whatever side of the political spectrum you may be on, it’s hard to argue that greater participation by the citizens will not lead to greater democracy.

Clearly upgrading the way we vote will take time. But it is integral for our democracy to be made more democratic. Not only should the voting be taken online, but the same should happen to the registration process. It should be clear, universal, easily checked and immediate. And until we demand that the entrenched political forces implement the changes, it's back to the line.

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7 most notorious and excessive Roman Emperors

These Roman Emperors were infamous for their debauchery and cruelty.

Nero's Torches. A group of early Christian martyrs about to be burned alive during the reign of emperor Nero in 64 AD.

1876. Painted by Henryk Siemiradzki.
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Roman Emperors were known for their excesses and violent behavior.
  • From Caligula to Elagabalus, the emperors exercised total power in the service of their often-strange desires.
  • Most of these emperors met violent ends themselves.

We rightfully complain about many of our politicians and leaders today, but historically speaking, humanity has seen much worse. Arguably no set of rulers has been as debauched, ingenious in their cruelty, and prone to excess as the Roman Emperors.

While this list is certainly not exhaustive, here are seven Roman rulers who were perhaps the worst of the worst in what was one of the largest empires that ever existed, lasting for over a thousand years.

1. Caligula

Officially known as Gaius (Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus), Caligula was the third Roman Emperor, ruling from 37 to 41 AD. He acquired the nickname "Caligula" (meaning "little [soldier's] boot") from his father's soldiers during a campaign.

While recognized for some positive measures in the early days of his rule, he became famous throughout the ages as an absolutely insane emperor, who killed anyone when it pleased him, spent exorbitantly, was obsessed with perverse sex, and proclaimed himself to be a living god.

Caligula gives his horse Incitatus a drink during a banquet. Credit: An engraving by Persichini from a drawing by Pinelli, from "The History of the Roman Emperors" from Augustus to Constantine, by Jean Baptiste Louis Crevier. 1836.

Among his litany of misdeeds, according to the accounts of Caligula's contemporaries Philo of Alexandria and Seneca the Younger, he slept with whomever he wanted, brazenly taking other men's wives (even on their wedding nights) and publicly talking about it.

He also had an insatiable blood thirst, killing for mere amusement. Once, as reports historian Suetonius, when the bridge across the sea at Puteoli was being blessed, he had a number of spectators who were there to inspect it thrown off into the water. When some tried to cling to the ships' rudders, Caligula had them dislodged with hooks and oars so they would drown. On another occasion, he got so bored that he had his guards throw a whole section of the audience into the arena during the intermission so they would be eaten by wild beasts. He also allegedly executed two consuls who forgot his birthday.

Suetonius relayed further atrocities of the mad emperor's character, writing that Caligula "frequently had trials by torture held in his presence while he was eating or otherwise enjoying himself; and kept an expert headsman in readiness to decapitate the prisoners brought in from gaol." One particular form of torture associated with Caligula involved having people sawed in half.

He caused mass starvation and purposefully wasted money and resources, like making his troops stage fake battles just for theater. If that wasn't enough, he turned his palace into a brothel and was accused of incest with his sisters, Agrippina the Younger, Drusilla, and Livilla, whom he also prostituted to other men. Perhaps most famously, he was planning to appoint his favorite horse Incitatus a consul and went as far as making the horse into a priest.

In early 41 AD, Caligula was assassinated by a conspiracy of Praetorian Guard officers, senators, and other members of the court.

2. Nero

Fully named Nero Claudius Caesar, Nero ruled from 54 to 68 AD and was arguably an even worse madman than his uncle Caligula. He had his step-brother Britannicus killed, his wife Octavia executed, and his mother Agrippina stabbed and murdered. He personally kicked to death his lover Poppeaea while she was pregnant with his child — a horrific action the Roman historian Tacitus depicted as "a casual outburst of rage."

He spent exorbitantly and built a 100-foot-tall bronze statue of himself called the Colossus Neronis.

He is also remembered for being strangely obsessed with music. He sang and played the lyre, although it's not likely he really fiddled as Rome burned in what is a popular myth about this crazed tyrant. As misplaced retribution for the fire which burned down a sizable portion of Rome in the year 64, he executed scores of early Christians, some of them outfitted in animal skins and brutalized by dogs, with others burned at the stake.

He died by suicide.

Roman Emperor Nero in the burning ruins of Rome. July 64 AD.Credit: From an original painting by S.J. Ferris. (Photo by Kean Collection / Getty Images)

3. Commodus

Like some of his counterparts, Commodus (a.k.a. Lucius Aelius Aurelius Commodus) thought he was a god — in his case, a reincarnation of the Greek demigod Hercules. Ruling from 176 to 192 AD, he was also known for his debauched ways and strange stunts that seemed designed to affirm his divine status. Numerous statues around the empire showed him as Hercules, a warrior who fought both men and beasts. He fought hundreds of exotic animals in an arena like a gladiator, confusing and terrifying his subjects. Once, he killed 100 lions in a single day.

Emperor Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) questions the loyalty of his sister Lucilla (Connie Nielsen) In Dreamworks Pictures' and Universal Pictures' Oscar-winning drama "Gladiator," directed by Ridley Scott.Credit: Photo By Getty Images

The burning desire to kill living creatures as a gladiator for the New Year's Day celebrations in 193 AD brought about his demise. After Commodus shot hundreds of animals with arrows and javelins every morning as part of the Plebeian Games leading up to New Year's, his fitness coach (aptly named Narcissus), choked the emperor to death in his bath.

4. Elagabalus

Officially named Marcus Aurelius Antoninus II, Elagabalus's nickname comes from his priesthood in the cult of the Syrian god Elagabal. Ruling as emperor from 218 to 222 AD, he was so devoted to the cult, which he tried to spread in Rome, that he had himself circumcised to prove his dedication. He further offended the religious sensitivities of his compatriots by essentially replacing the main Roman god Jupiter with Elagabal as the chief deity. In another nod to his convictions, he installed on Palatine Hill a cone-like fetish made of black stone as a symbol of the Syrian sun god Sol Invictus Elagabalus.

His sexual proclivities were also not well received at the time. He was likely transgender (wearing makeup and wigs), had five marriages, and was quite open about his male lovers. According to the Roman historian (and the emperor's contemporary) Cassius Dio, Elagabalus prostituted himself in brothels and taverns and was one of the first historical figures on record to be looking for sex reassignment surgery.

He was eventually murdered in 222 in an assassination plot engineered by his own grandmother Julia Maesa.

5. Vitellius

Emperor for just eight months, from April 19th to December 20th of the year 69 AD, Vitellius made some key administrative contributions to the empire but is ultimately remembered as a cruel glutton. He was described by Suetonius as overly fond of eating and drinking, to the point where he would eat at banquets four times a day while sending out the Roman navy to get him rare foods. He also had little social grace, inviting himself over to the houses of different noblemen to eat at their banquets, too.

Vitellius dragged through the streets of Rome.Credit: Georges Rochegrosse. 1883.

He was also quite vicious and reportedly either had his own mother starved to death or approved a poison with which she committed suicide.

Vitellius was ultimately murdered in brutal fashion by supporters of the rival emperor Vespasian, who dragged him through Rome's streets, then likely beheaded him and threw his body into the Tiber river. "Yet I was once your emperor," were supposedly his last words, wrote historian Cassius Dio.

6. Caracalla

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus I ruled Rome from 211 to 217 AD on his own (while previously co-ruling with his father Septimius Severus from 198). "Caracalla"' was his nickname, referencing a hooded coat from Gaul that he brought into Roman fashion.

He started off his rise to individual power by murdering his younger brother Geta, who was named co-heir by their father. Caracalla's bloodthirsty tyranny didn't stop there. He wiped out Geta's supporters and was known to execute any opponents to his or Roman rule. For instance, he slaughtered up to 20,000 citizens of Alexandria after a local theatrical satire dared to mock him.

Geta Dying in His Mother's Arms.Credit: Jacques Pajou (1766-1828)

One of the positive outcomes of his rule was the Edict of Caracalla, which gave Roman citizenship to all free men in the empire. He was also known for building gigantic baths.

Like others on this list, Caracalla met a brutal end, being assassinated by army officers, including the Praetorian prefect Opellius Macrinus, who installed himself as the next emperor.

7. Tiberius

As the second emperor, Tiberius (ruling from 42 BC to 16 AD) is known for a number of accomplishments, especially his military exploits. He was one of the Roman Empire's most successful generals, conquering Pannonia, Dalmatia, Raetia, and parts of Germania.

He was also remembered by his contemporaries as a rather sullen, perverse, and angry man. In the chapter on his life from The Lives of the Twelve Caesars by the historian Suetonius, Tiberius is said to have been disliked from an early age for his personality by even his family. Suetonius wrote that his mother Antonia often called him "an abortion of a man, that had been only begun, but never finished, by nature."

"Orgy of the Times of Tiberius on Capri".Painting by Henryk Siemiradzki. 1881.

Suetonius also paints a damning picture of Tiberius after he retreated from public life to the island of Capri. His years on the island would put Jeffrey Epstein to shame. A horrendous pedophile, Tiberius had a reputation for "depravities that one can hardly bear to tell or be told, let alone believe," Suetonius wrote, describing how "in Capri's woods and groves he arranged a number of nooks of venery where boys and girls got up as Pans and nymphs solicited outside bowers and grottoes: people openly called this 'the old goat's garden,' punning on the island's name."

There's much, much more — far too salacious and, frankly, disgusting to repeat here. For the intrepid or morbidly curious reader, here's a link for more information.

After he died, Tiberius was fittingly succeeded in emperorship by his grandnephew and adopted grandson Caligula.

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