When you’re stuck in the house all day you get a lot of time to think about the past, present, and future. Congress recently passed a bandaid bill to help support an economy stuck in quicksand from quarantine measures. The measure was not properly crafted to address the collective actions problems created by the current pandemic and the primary strategies used to stop the virus.
Partizan bickering and grandstanding was as much on display as if there was no pandemic at all. It creates a sense of zealous civic duty in preparing to vote them all out of office come November. But then you stop and realize that voting may be negatively impacted by the pandemic.
November is roughly 8 months from now. What changes to our system could we make to ensure that voting can take place regardless of the outbreak? And what other changes will need to be made to society in the event we are stuck in place for that long?
Absentee voting has been around for a long time. It’s served a useful purpose especially for individuals that travel over sees with great frequency. But the current infrastructure is not in place to support an entire country voting by absentee ballot.
In 2016 nearly 4 million people voted by absentee ballot. That’s about 1% of the US population. It’s unlikely that we can handle the entire country voting by absentee ballot.
The 2020 Iowa Caucus attempted to use phone application technology to support the voting process. It was an unmitigated disaster. There were many voting irregularities that marred the entire caucus process in scandal. But the root cause appears to be relatively straight forward.
The app production was a low budget effort, rushed to production, and lacked adequate testing. Tragic in it’s long lasting consequences, these problems appear to be standard tech challenges that can be overcome. The lasting foul taste the Iowa failure leaves are more complicated challenges to overcome in order to achieve mainstream adoption at the national level.
None-the-less, phone application voting represents and appealing method of absentee voting. Should the pandemic last until November and restrict the voting process it could be a reasonable solution to keeping the voting date.
With 8 months away there is certainly an opportunity to develop an app that could handle some of the voting load. Perhaps using it in the areas of the country with larger viral fallout. The key though, is that the initiative needs to be launched now for proper development and testing to take place. We have the time and the resources to address this problem.
Thinking through the unprecedented lifestyle a majority of the globe is experiencing tends to focus on the negative. Lockdowns are hard on people. But with a little perspective, society can use this experience as an opportunity to create new value for society.
The streets are virtually empty in cities like New York. Why do we not use this opportunity to experiment with drone and autonomous vehicle delivery services? Companies with working prototypes should be aggressively testing their technologies in these lockdowns including how they can effectively build the business models to support future growth.
Amazon should be granted special approval to use drones to deliver packages to quarantined populations. The regular risks associated with crowded flight space are greatly reduced as most air traffic is grounded. This is an opportunity to test technology in a peak urban environment. Likewise, Uber and Google can begin rolling out their autonomous vehicles to support package delivery services in support of damaged supply chains. This represents a unique opportunity for them to work on autonomous last mile delivery algorithms in a way that would have otherwise never been possible.
Healthcare Surge Capacity
This tragedy also provides us with an opportunity to rework out healthcare infrastructure to include just in time manufacturing of medical tools and equipment. Thinking through on location needs such as precious PPE and ventilator equipment, how could hospitals acquire small just in time infrastructure to support surge capacity?
It certainly starts with 3D printing capabilities on site with pre-loaded designs for frequently needed items. It represents an opportunity to experiment with open sourced and sharable design software between hospitals and tech companies. We currently have tech entrepreneurs creating designs for ventilator parts and McGyvered parts but there is no system of universal sharing. This represents an opportunity to develop an open source platform of sharing between hospitals so that all can benefit from decentralized innovation.
The pandemic is a harsh reality for all that are living through it. But as we settle in for the long haul it’s important that we work to take advantage of as much positive value as possible. Our ability to extract an value from this experience will make the pain of living through it at least have some form of tragic meaning.